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