23 December 2005 - Friday

Not an exact science

Isaiah Berlin:

History is not identical with imaginative literature, but it is certainly not free from what, in a natural science, would be rightly condemned as unwarrantably subjective and even, in an empirical sense of the term, intuitive. Except on the assumption that history must deal with human beings purely as material objects in space -- must, in short, be behaviourist -- its method can scarcely be assimilated to the standards of an exact natural science. The invocation to historians to suppress even that minimal degree of moral or psychological insight and evaluation which is necessarily involved in viewing human beings as creatures with purposes and motives (and not merely as causal factors in the procession of events) seems to me to spring from a confusion of the aims and methods of the humane studies with those of natural science. Purely descriptive, wholly depersonalised history remains, what it always has been, a figment of abstract theory, a violently exaggerated reaction to the cant and vanity of earlier generations.
-- "Historical Inevitability" (1954). Liberty, ed. Henry Hardy. Oxford, 2002. 140-141.

| Posted by Wilson at 20:48 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Humanities Desk