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Representation and Reference

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

This essay focuses on the historical text as a whole. It does so by conceiving of the historical text as representation ‐ in the way the we may say of a photo or a painting that it represents the person depicted on it. It is argued that representation cannot be properly understood by modelling it on true description. So all the central questions asked since the days of Frege with regard to how the true statement relates to the world must be asked anew, if we wish to understand how a historical representation relates to what it is about. Three claims are made. In the first place, representation is not a two-place but a three-place operator: apart from a representation (say, a book on Napoleon) and what the representation represents (Napoleon himself), a representation also indicates an aspect of represented reality (an aspect of Napoleon). The second claim is that this notion of the aspect is crucial for a proper understanding of (historical) representation. Thirdly, it is argued that traditional theories of reference cannot account for the relationship between a representation and the aspect indicated by it.

Affiliations: 1: University of Groningen, Email:


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