GOV 382M • Philosophy of History
4:00 PM-7:00 PM
Course number may be repeated for credit when topics vary. This seminar will focus on the nature of history, that is, human knowledge about the past, by asking several related questions. What is the aim of the historian? Is it to discover facts about the past, to discover the causes of important events, to tell a plausible story that is relevant to readers, or something else? Should historians make value-judgements, or is it inevitable that they will? What is the nature of historical explanation? Is historical explanation the same as the scientific explanation of the natural sciences or is it different? What is the relationship between history and narrative? If history uses narrative, as fiction does, is history a kind of fiction? Readings will come from philosophers and distinguished historians reflecting on their profession, e.g., R. G. Collingwood, Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, Carl Hempel, Jack Hexter, Arthur Danto, Hans-Georg Gadamer, William Dray, Quentin Skinner, and David Carr. Philosophers of history often do not pay enough attention to actual historical writing. To counteract this deficiency, each student will read independently at least two works of history (historical writing), either books or important articles. Students can use these as evidence for their beliefs about the nature of history or to critique the actual practice of historians. My personal preference is for the political history that is closely tied to political theory, e.g. the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution.
Class participation: 30% Midterm Essay: 20% (3-5 pages; 500-1500 words) Final Essay: 50% (10-15 pages; 2500-4000 words)
Not yet determined. Probably, one or two anthologies and some articles.