Due to the influence of postmodernism, historical anti-realism has come to exercise a massive influence in contemporary philosophy of history. Edited by Tor Egil Førland and Branko Mitrović, The Povery of Anti-realism: Critical Perspectives on Postmodernist Philosophy of History presents perspectives that oppose anti-realist understanding of historians' work. The first part of the book gives an overview of contemporary anti-realist philosophy of history and shows that its claims are either so wide-ranging that they apply to all scientific knowledge, or pertain only to a select part of historians’ work. In the second part, the authors criticize major anti-realist tenets. These include: the assertion that the colligatory concepts historians use are without reference in the past; the idea that historical facts are theory-dependent and therefore unable to upend prevailing theories; Paul Roth’s application of Nelson Goodman’s “irrealist” theory of worldmaking to suggest a plurality of pasts; and the belief that multiple describability prevents historians from providing true and testable accounts of the past. The third and final part shows that the political implications of anti-realism are often other than left-leaning anti-realists think. Their reactions when confronted with the consequences of their theories indicate the inconsistency and untenability of postmodernist philosophy of history.
Tor Egil Førland is professor of history and head of the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas at the University of Oslo.
Branko Mitrović is professor of architectural history and theory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
Introduction: Being Realist about History by Tor Egil Førland and Branko Mitrović
Part I: Philosophical Contexts
Chapter 1: Idealism in Historical Theory 1970–2020 by Adam Timmins
Chapter 2: A Deceiving Resemblance: Realism Debates in Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Historiography by Veli Virmajoki
Part II: Critiques
Chapter 3: Historical Accuracy and Historians’ Objectivity by Branko Mitrović
Chapter 4: Historiography beyond Partisanship: Establishing Facts and Evaluating Theories by Tor Egil Førland
Chapter 5: Irrealism and Historical Theory: A User’s Guide by Adam Timmins
Chapter 6: Saving Historical Reality (Even If We Construct It) by David Weberman
Part III: Political Implications
Chapter 7: Is Historical Antirealism (Ever) Politically Progressive? by Ian Verstegen
Chapter 8: Postmodern Frankenstein; or, the Alternative Facts Monster by Tor Egil Førland
Chapter 9: Arguments, Partisanship, and Politics: Is Anti-realism in the Philosophy of History a Right-Wing Ideology? by Branko Mitrović
First past the post: this anthology is the first collection of essays in the philosophy of historiography past post-modernism, post-post-modernist if you wish. It challenges the dogma that knowledge of the past is entirely dependent on the perspectives of those who represent history and that hence historiography is a construction of historians rather than evidence based probable representation of the past, from Nietzsche to Foucault to Trump, and from politically reductionist extreme left to extreme right. As post-post replaces post-, philosophies of historiography and historiographic relativism recedes along with political totalitarianism and emotivist populism, this collection offers an alternative future through a philosophical reinterpretation of the historical sciences.
The open access for this book was funded by the University of Oslo.
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