The Logic of the History of Ideas

The Logic of the History of Ideas

The Logic of the History of Ideas

The Logic of the History of Ideas

Synopsis

This book provides a philosophical analysis of the reasoning appropriate to the history of ideas. It addresses three main questions: what sort of meanings do historians study? How can historians justify claims to have objective knowledge of such meanings? What sorts of explanations are appropriate to such meanings? By answering these questions Mark Bevir seeks to clarify the nature of the history of ideas so as to guide historians in their practice, and to illuminate the process by which human thought develops.

Excerpt

Patterns of family life, debates in politics, religious observances, technological inventions, scientific beliefs, literature, and the arts – all of these things are aspects of human culture. Typically we define a broad concept of human culture in contrast to physical and biological processes. One key feature Differentiates the cultural, even if the precise boundaries between it, the physical, and the biological sometimes remain blurred. Cultural phenomena convey meanings, and they do so because cultures are composed at least in part of beliefs. Some components of a culture, such as political tracts and literary works, usually stand as self-conscious attempts to convey meanings through language. Other components of a culture, such as sculpture and painting, usually stand as self-conscious attempts to convey meanings through nonlinguistic forms. Yet other components of a culture, such as habits of association and sporting activities, do not usually represent any sort of self-conscious attempt to convey meanings. in each of these cases, however, the objects and activities in question constitute cultural phenomena precisely because they do convey meanings. Students of culture concentrate on the meanings conveyed by patterns of behaviour, forms of social organisation, economic systems, technical inventions, and the like, not on these things in themselves.

To study the history of ideas is to study meaning, and so culture, from a historical perspective. But then the study of culture must always be parasitic on history. Although scholars can evaluate cultural phenomena epistemically, morally, or aesthetically, they cannot evaluate what they do not know, and the only way they can acquire knowledge of cultural phenomena is through historical studies. Thus, a recognition of the meaningfulness of human life combines with a historical consciousness to place questions of interpretation at the centre of the human . . .

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