Telling It Like it Really Was. On the form, presuppositions, and justification of historiographic knowledge

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa IT115

Topic of the dissertation

Telling It Like it Really Was. On the form, presuppositions, and justification of historiographic knowledge

Doctoral candidate

MPhil, Msoc Georg Gangl

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, History, Culture and Communication Studies

Subject of study

Philosophy of history


Director Aviezer Tucker, Harvard University


Professor Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, History of Sciences and Ideas

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Telling It Like it Really Was

This thesis is concerned with historiographic knowledge, with its form, presuppositions, and
justification. In the articles that form its backbone I argue that historiographic knowledge often
takes the form of causal narratives, and that hindsight is an essential epistemic asset in the forging
of those narratives. The articles further argue that historiographic knowledge is best understood
through informational epistemology and a coherentist understanding of epistemic justification.

The process of justification of historiographic knowledge claims, however, is also an
intersubjective process in which different disciplinary practices play an essential role.
The extended introduction of this thesis has three goals that come out of the articles: 1) to
elucidate the nature and characteristics of the philosophy of scientific historiography; 2) to argue
for an empirical turn in the discipline; and 3) to probe the relationship between historiography and
other ways to relate to the past, and with that, the relationship between the philosophy of
historiography and the theory of history. On the first issue, I argue for a broadly naturalist
understanding of the discipline, and I define its main task as the philosophical reconstruction and
explication of the scientific practices of (Rankean) historiography along with their limits. The
determination of the reach and limits of these scientific practices is a fundamentally empirical task
though, thus the call for an empirical turn. Having established the nature of scientific
historiography, I ask what role a rational and truthful relation to the past should play in our
individual lives and for society as a whole.

The goal of chapter III is to delineate the relationship between (scientific) historiography and
politics, and to defend the discipline against politicist usurpations. For these reasons, I talk about
some basic agreement among historians concerning politics and the limits of its influence on their
discipline, just as much as I identify the positive influence that politics can have on historiography.
The nature and justification of historiographic method is apolitical though; anyone of any political
persuasion has good reasons to use those methods, if they want to produce knowledge of the past.
The chapter closes with reflections on the (political) limits of historiographic reason.
Last updated: 25.10.2023