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The Subject of History: Historical Subjectivity and Historical Science

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Abstract In this paper, I show how the phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions and method converge on their treatment of the historical subject. Thinkers from both traditions converge on the following thesis: that subjectivity is shaped by a historical worldview. Each tradition provides independent grounds and methodological approaches which provide accounts of how these worldviews are shaped, and thus how essentially historical subjective experience is molded. In the second part of this paper I argue that both traditions, although offering helpful ways of understanding the way history shapes subjectivity, go too far in their epistemic claims for the superiority of subjective over positivist or academic history. They propose that the historicity of subjective experience is unexpressed and therefore inexpressible in positivist or academic history. I propose that although the phenomenological-hermeneutic approach to historical subjectivity is both fruitful and valuable for understanding both history and human nature, it cannot and ought not replace academic or what I will call ‘critical’ history. By showing the importance of historicity, and the force of historical consciousness on our actions, philosophers of history in these traditions expose the epistemic and perhaps even ethical requirement to engage in a rigorous critical history, one which recognizes the importance of historical consciousness. Such critical history is necessary to move beyond the subjective horizon of history as experienced to understand how events shaped this historical horizon.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy Cal Poly Pomona


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