The philosophy of medieval history: an intellectual mode for experiencing the Middle Ages?

The philosophy of medieval history: an intellectual mode for experiencing the Middle Ages?
07 Mar 2018, 17:30 to 07 Mar 2018, 19:30
IHR Wolfson Room NB02, Basement, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Daniel Fairbrother , University of Warwick

Philosophers tend to go around telling people what to do. Philosophers of history

sometimes try to tell historians what to do. However, in this paper I want to ask what

medieval history can teach philosophers of history. Obviously, medieval historians can

teach philosophers of history a lot about medieval history! Yet, in this paper, I suggest

that medievalists can offer particular philosophical lessons about how to explain action

historically. The gist of my concern is that philosophers of history might find a deeper

engagement with medieval history fruitful, and that – perhaps – it would help them gain

a wider audience for their own work. We (for I am one such philosopher of history)

might try to turn aspects of the philosophy of history into an intellectual but accessible

way of grappling with medievalism in contemporary experience. While there may be

universal philosophical lessons about historical knowledge and imagination, some

periods may be better at revealing these lessons than others. I try to link three phases of

discussion. Firstly, I offer an untechnical version of my argument for thinking that

historians do not so much explain facts about action as use such facts to explain

possibilities. Secondly, I reflect on what is distinctive about action in medieval history,

especially the ways in which action is related in sources such as charters, inquisitorial

registers, poetry, and saints’ lives. Thirdly, and finally, I suggest that a detailed

engagement with medieval history, as well as with more recent culture containing

medieval themes, is especially well suited to making us think about ourselves – both

historically and philosophically.

Please note: this session has been postponed


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