Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Seeing the Facts and Saying What You Like: Retroactive Redescription and Indeterminacy in the Past

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

In chapter 17 of his book, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory, Ian Hacking makes the disquieting claim that “perhaps we should best think of past human actions as being to a certain extent indeterminate.”<xref ref-type="fn" rid="FN1">1</xref> Against what may appear like the self-evident conception of the past as fixed and unalterable, Hacking suggests that when it comes to human conduct and experience, there are reasons to adopt a more flexible view. This suggestion has caused lively debate, in the journal History of the Human Sciences and elsewhere.<xref ref-type="fn" rid="FN2">2</xref> Central to this debate is the question of what it means to use a recently invented vocabulary to redescribe past human affairs. In particular, it is asked: How do the linguistic, cultural and social differences between past and present matter to the possibility of such a redescription’s being true? We who do research in the humanities and social sciences often make retroactive redescriptions of precisely this sort. Hence, the debate is clearly of some general importance for how to conceive the goals and methods of our inquiries. My overall aim in this paper is to clarify what we may learn from the clash between Hacking and his critics.

Affiliations: 1: Åbo Academy, Email:


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Journal of the Philosophy of History — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation