Does Philosophy Have a Vindicatory History? Bernard Williams on the History of Philosophy

Studia Philosophica: The Swiss Journal of Philosophy 76:137-51 (2017)
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This paper develops Bernard Williams’s suggestion that for philosophy to ignore its history is for it to assume that its history is vindicatory. The paper aims to offer a fruitful line of inquiry into the question whether philosophy has a vindicatory history by providing a map of possible answers to it. It first distinguishes three types of history: the history of discovery, the history of progress, and the history of change. It then suggests that much of philosophy lacks a vindicatory history, for reasons that reflect philosophy’s character as a humanistic discipline. On this basis, the paper reconstructs Williams’s conception of what it means for philosophy to engage with its own history. The paper concludes that it is a mistake to think that a vindicatory history is what we would really like to have, and that in fact, the resulting picture gives philosophy several reasons to engage with its own history.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern


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