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CCSU Emeritus email@example.com I hesitate to belabor a theme that might be a bit OT, but since I was addressed directly, I suppose I must respect your query. My answer to your suggestion will necessarily entail some speculation, but I don't know how to avoid it. Let me start by saying that I tend to agree with your short list of parameters, although with some nit-picking qualifications. If you only mean that values must be subject to evaluation, I'm in accord, but this tends to beg so many questions that it is close to being a topos. I suspect you would agree that values are not only usually ambivalent, but are also a function of time, place and circumstance. That is why I brought up the difficult issue of universality. Without it, a critical evaluation can only be self-serving, even if not intended. I also agree that accountability is important, which means that values and presuppositions be made explicit. Unfortunately, few historical works actually do this. One reason is that most historians (most people) are not even aware of their underlying assumptions and the extent to which their values are a function of their social milieu. I believe the development of this critical self-awareness depends on a universal standard on which people can agree. Even the use of reason is ambivalent, although understood very broadly I'd agree. First of all, without arguing the point (not difficult to do), rationality is an artifact of cognitive closure and is a biological inheritance. The real problem is that if historical processes (and not just human history) are emergent in that outcomes are not entirely predictable or probable, then to some degree explanation cannot be entirely rational. A good example is the Methodenstreit in late 19th century Germany: the determination of circumstance is inimical to values. As for your point about freedom and dignity, I'd again agree, but there are still issues. For example, in the social sciences there are approaches such as methodological individualism and optimal choice theory which are subject to much criticism. The problem is that in the modern West, the individual was traditionally hypostatized (the intrinsic properties of "human nature"), while in other societies to varying degrees the individual is viewed as a social being. I'll return to this shortly in relation to universal moral values. Freedom and dignity need not be understood in terms of Western individualism. > I believe we try to evaluate and negotiate diverse practices in this > way already in our interactions with varieties of cultural behaviors > and ideologies with which we share the present. It is possible to be > critical and open minded in our teaching and our research while > adhering to moral guidelines. Here I must disagree. This market model of social interaction seems unrealistic. It implies a model of the autonomous individual treating others the same way, when in fact what we or they do affect us profoundly, including what we are as human beings. We don't own the present like some property, but we are the present. What we share is a social possibility to transcend what we are to become something better or more developed. It is a subtle point, but the Enlightenment view that the other represents an opportunity for the self to increase its own "talents" (as Adam Ferguson put it), seems an unrealistic notion of society. As a jihadist would insist, to be open minded is to take values not very seriously; it allows your brains to fall out. > For example: > > Leader: The (historical, ie, Medieval or other) Law states that a > woman charged (with a crime) should be thrown into the water to see if > she floats. Floating or not floating shall determine her guilt or > innocence. On what premise did they (the historical agents) base this > law? But there is a standard answer to this question. Because compurgation was likely to bring in your relatives, friends or folks subject to bribe, and because the public sphere was not sufficiently developed to really find what actually happened, there was need of a method to resolve social conflicts that had little to do with the facts but rested on what everyone could agree upon. For example, the Taino Indians when faced with social conflict would appoint two teams to play ball, with one team representing one side of the conflict and the other team the other. When one team was victor, that settled the matter. It is not irrational to flip a coin to settle things when no better method is available; conflict resolution is more important than an unattainable system of justice. This brings up the difficult issue of universality. In both your example of floating and mine of playing ball, the universal criterion was one that transcended circumstances and at the same time was something over which everyone could agree. I suspect a clue is your reference to "dignity". While I suppose some (in the Modern West) might define this as the autonomy of the individual to do "his/her own thing", this mitigates against positive social relations and values. I better like the meaning given the word in the labor movement, which is that that individual is important because the individual, as a member of a union acquires the power to determine their circumstances. That is, the ultimate moral value depends on what is known as real or economic democracy. Western style parliamentary cretanism is surely not universal. I suspect real democracy is becoming crucial right now as the bulk world's people are for the first time acquiring a sense of existing in society at large beyond their village and household. They naturally want to make a difference in society because society at large is now affecting them much more profoundly. An example is jihadists. There is a democratic principle that being totally subject to god, each individual can then be a caliph. The problem with this is that the transcendent universal is not universal, but culture-specific, just as your example of whether the accused floats. But on the other hand, what is universal is material wellbeing and thus the possibility to actualize one's possibilities as a social being. Real democracy is a means to that end. So the issue becomes whether the implicit value system in historiography serves to enhance the dignity of everyone. Sorry for all this idle speculation, but the question is real, is of vital importance, and one has to begin somewhere.