Paul A. Roth and the Revival of Analytical Philosophy of History

Jonathan Gorman
  • Journal of the Philosophy of History, June 2018, Brill
  • DOI: 10.1163/18722636-12341397

How to understand the right kind of philosophy to use to think about history

What is it about?

People have long sought to give meaning to historical processes. One solution has been religion. Since the Enlightenment with its “scientific” understanding history became disciplinised in various non-religious ways. In the nineteenth century, what later theorists called “speculative” philosophers of history, for example Hegel or Marx, would seek by non-empirical methods a profound understanding of, as they supposed, the hitherto hidden plan of actual historical change and would offer a political ideology suitable for mass motivation. Other historians and philosophers from the nineteenth century onwards have been concerned with historical objectivity, reality, truth and explanation, with considerable input from theorising about language and literature. In the mid-twentieth century, analytical philosophers drew on the philosophies of science and of action. There has been a call to re-launch that analytical philosophy of history. This paper argues that any re-launch must recognise something widely forgotten: the historical rivalry between (a) science-based logical empiricist analytical philosophy and (b) post-Wittgenstein “ordinary language” philosophies that analysed empathetic understanding.

Why is it important?

The twentieth century rise and fall of Nazism and Communism involved recognition of the poverty of the philosophical presuppositions about historical understanding and development that helped to frame the ideologies involved. This paper contributes to developing the intellectual rigour in thinking about history that is required today. It is an exercise in the vigilance involved in defending our best understanding, thereby supporting our best political systems.


Jonathan Gorman (Author)
Queen's University Belfast

It is an important, although small, part of the expression of my own developing theorising about history, illustrated in many academic publications. I welcome the paper's publication in the distinguished and influential international journal "The Journal of the Philosophy of History".

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