INTELLECTUAL HISTORY, INCONCEIVABILITY, AND METHODOLOGICAL HOLISM1

Authors


  • 1

    . I would like to express my gratitude to Stephen Davies for the original stimulus to write this article and to Robert Nola and Christopher Martin for their help and advice in its preparation.

ABSTRACT

The debate between individualism and holism in the philosophy of history pertains to the nature of the entities relied on in historical explanations. The question is whether explanations of historical items (for example, events, actions, artifacts) require the assumption that the collective historical entities (for example, civilizations, cultures, and so on) used in these explanations are (sometimes) conceived of as irreducible to the actions, thoughts, and beliefs of individual human beings. In this paper I analyze two methodological problems that holist explanations face in the writing of intellectual history. The first problem derives from the fact that holist explanations in intellectual history have to rely on the claim that certain beliefs were inconceivable to some individuals because they were members of specific collectives, whereas it is unclear how historical research can justify such claims when made from the holist position. The second problem pertains to the difficulties the holist position faces when it has to account for the novel properties of artifacts studied by intellectual history.

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