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Intentionalism, Intentional Realism, and Empathy

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

Contemporary philosophers of history and interpretation theorists very often deny the thesis of intentional realism, because they reject intentionalism or the thesis that an agent's or author's intentions are relevant for the interpretive practice of the human sciences. I will defend intentional realism by showing why it is wrong to whole-heartedly reject intentionalism and by clarifying the logical relation between intentionalism and intentional realism. I will do so by discussing the two central arguments against intentionalism; the argument from the perspective of narrative anti-realism and the epistemic argument focusing on the fact that an agent's or author's intentions are not epistemically accessible in a direct manner. In particular, I will show that the fact that historians write narratives does add a level of complexity as far as the giving of explanations of individual actions are concerned. Yet it does not follow that the explanatory power of a full fledged historical narrative can be understood as being completely independent of our folk psychological account of individual agency. Accordingly, we should also be prepared to accept a methodological distinction between the human and the natural sciences as long as the human sciences use the folk psychological framework for explanatory purposes, since it is only in the former that empathy plays an epistemically central role. I however do not claim that empathy is the only method of the human sciences nor do I claim that all interpretive disputes can be settled merely in light of our empathic capacities.

Affiliations: 1: College of the Holy Cross, USA


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