Five questions on intellectual history

Allan Megill
  • Rethinking History, December 2011, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/13642529.2011.616411

Five Questions on Intellectual History

What is it about?

Intellectual history is a good way for students who don’t feel that they have the skill and expertise to offer strong philosophical arguments to at least arrive at sound historical conclusions regarding past philosophy. Moreover, when pursued in the right way, intellectual history takes theories and ideas seriously—which we need to do, if we are to have any hope of getting beyond the limits of our own initial provincialism.

Why is it important?

This paper takes issue with the common view that it is legitimate for historians to treat the theoretical propositions of past thinkers as mere “text” or “discourse.” I argue, on the contrary, that past theoretical arguments invite--indeed, demand--responses at a theoretical level. It is deep mistake for present-day historians to brush aside the theoretical content of past texts, as if Kant or Hegel, for example, were ethereal mystics with nothing to say about the real world. Quatsch!

The following have contributed to this page: Allan Megill