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On the Difference Between a Pupil and a Historian of Ideas

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Abstract This essay takes up the fundamental question of the proper place of history in the study of political thought through critical engagement with Mark Bevir’s seminal work, The Logic of the History of Ideas. While I accept the claim of Bevir, as well as of other exponents of the so-called “Cambridge School,” that there is a conceptual difference between historical and non-historical modes of reading past works of political philosophy, I resist the suggestion that this conceptual differentiation itself justifies the specialization, among practicing intellectuals, between historians of ideas and others who read political-philosophical texts non-historically. Over and against the figure of the historian of ideas, who interprets political thought only in the manner of a historian, I defend the ideal of the pupil, who in studying past traditions of political thought also seeks to extend and modify them in light of contemporary problems and concerns. Against Bevir, I argue that the mixture of historical and non-historical modes of learning, in the manner of the pupil, need not do damage to the historian of ideas’ commitment to scholarship that is non-anachronistic, objective, and non-indeterminate.

Affiliations: 1: University of Pennsylvania


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