Emplacing the Local

 

 MONDAY NIGHT LECTURE SERIES

Monday, February 4
6 p.m.
Russell House

A New Look at an Old Question

Frank Ankersmit

University of Groningen

In the past, three answers were regularly provided concerning the relationship between history and the sciences: 1) the scientist deals with the universal and the historian with the unique, 2) the scientist deals with nature and the historian with a culture that is permeated by ethical norms, and 3) the scientist “explains” the world whereas the historian relies on “empathic understanding.” In recent times, however, few philosophers of history have addressed this problem, which is to say the issue is simply no longer on the agenda.

I wish to approach this old question from a new perspective, namely that of logic. To put my argument in a nutshell, if one distinguishes between traditional Aristotelian logic and modern formal logic, room is left for what one might call “representationalist logic” sharing elements of both while not being reducible to either. It is my contention that historical representation obeys the rules of representationalist logic. This means the end of all attempts to rely on epistemology (logical-positivist, hermeneutical, or whatever) for an understanding of historical writing because the nature of the relationship between logic (or mathematics) and the world is a metaphysical and not an epistemological problem. The roots of this representationalist logic can be found in Leibniz’s metaphysics but further insights into its nature can be found in the controversies in the first decade of the previous century between philosophers such as Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer, on the one hand, and Frege and Russell, on the other.