Towards a Realist Philosophy of History argues for the radical—at least in contemporary historical theory—view that historians are by and large successful in their goal of providing accurate knowledge and understanding about the historical past. Adam Timmins provides a philosophical framework that supports this endeavor, as well as highlighting some of the issues with the "strong constructivist" accounts common in contemporary historical theory. Among other things, the book provides a realist construal of colligatory concepts, historiographical reference, and the use of narrative, as well as examining the mechanisms of historiographical progress. The work also provides some much-needed criticism of aspects of the strong constructivist position, such as the contemporary adoption of “irrealism” and the idealist implications of this, that has have yet failed to make their way into the existing literature. The book proves that historical theory has not “moved on” from the realism-idealism debate and that realism with regards to the products of historiography is still very much a live option.
Adam Timmins holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of York and is an independent scholar. Towards a Realist Philosophy of History is his first monograph.
Chapter One: General Arguments Against Historiographical Realism
Chapter Two: A Two-Stage Model of Historiographical Practice
Chapter Three: The Club of Historical Facts
Chapter Four: Reference
Chapter Five: Colligatory Concepts
Chapter Six: Progress in Historiography
Chapter Seven: Holism
Chapter Eight: Narrative & Realism
Adam Timmins’s book is an immensely important effort to overcome the influence of postmodernist anti-realism in the philosophy of history, typically manifested as the view that historical past did not happen and that it is merely constructed by historians. The book surveys, presents, and refutes arguments in favor of anti-realist positions about historical past and provides a comprehensive theory of historical facts. This rejection of postmodernist anti-realism has important political implications: if historical past did not happen, then past acts of oppression also did not happen, and it becomes impossible to condemn them. In opposition to such views, a realist position, such as the one advocated by Timmins, provides a solid base for a humanist perspective on history.