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 "Philosophy of History and System of Logic",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, October 10, 1965,
of a book:
FOUNDATIONS OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE,
by Morton White.
Harper & Row: New York, 1965

 

"Philosophy of History And System of Logic"

 

FOUNDATIONS OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE.
By Morton White.
Harper & Row. 299 pages. $6.95.

 

 

   Philosophy of history suffers from the fact that its practitioners are either philosophers or historians, and almost never have an adequate familiarity with the questions asked and the methods used in both disciplines. This book is no exception. Prof. White is clearly a philosopher and has almost no concern with the problems which engage historians. His title is very misleading, since "historical knowledge" is concerned with the accuracy of a historian's picture of the past, an epistemological problem.

   Prof. White is concerned almost solely with logical problems. His book consists, chiefly, of logical analysis of statements, most of which are not historical statements. In the few cases where he does concern himself with statements made by historians (chiefly pages 64-66), his criticisms are concerned with logic. J. B. Bury, we are told, was guilty of a "logical mistake," while Marc Bloch was "involved in a logical inconsistency." To avoid such errors, "we must hold tight to this logical truth, that explanatory statements do not imply generalizations."

   The trouble with all this is that historians are not concerned with trying to he logical, but with trying to construct a convincing picture of the past. Since they are largely concerned with change, and may be concerned with various irrationalities, they see no need to follow a system of logic, which, like two-valued Greek logic, is not applicable to motion, change, and other irrationalities. Nor are historians much concerned, as White is, with establishing the cause of a historical event.

   Historians, as I know them today, are generally very suspicious of single causation (or even of multiple causation in the sense White sees it.)

   There are many meanings of the word "history," as there are many systems of logic. Prof. White ignores this, just as he ignores almost completely the two chief concerns of any historian: (1) That this work be sufficiently similar to the established versions of the subject to satisfy other historians, and (2) that it be sufficiently different, in ways which can be supported by examination of historical evidence, so that it will interest other historians. Prof. White has nothing to say about these two concerns, the evaluation of evidence and the historical consensus. The reason for this failure becomes clear when he finally gives us a definition of what he means by history on page. 223:

   "Since a history asserts causal connections, we may conceive of a history as a logical conjunction of statements most of which are singular causal assertions."

   This statement ignores the connections between written history, historical evidence, and what actually happened in the past, and it emphasizes two matters ("logical conjunction" and "causal connections"), one of which is excluded by the fact that our system of logic is organized in exclusive binary categories: While the subject of history is not so organized, the other is a concern of historians only in a minor and diluted fashion.


-- Carroll Quigley


Attached is an essay by Prof. Quigley's stating his approach to Systems of Logic and the Philosophy of History.

 

 

Scan of original review

 

 

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