D'Oro, G (2018) Philosophy of History at the Time of the Anthropocene: does the Advent of the Anthropocene Spell the end of the Distinction between the Natural and the Historical Past? Southeast Academic Research (Dongnan xue shu). ISSN 1008-1569 (In Press)

Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

Download (36kB)


Abstract. Philosophy of history has traditionally been concerned with questions concerning the nature of historical method and the extent to which history enjoys some form of disciplinary autonomy from the natural sciences. Central to the claim for the methodological autonomy of history was a distinction between the natural and the historical past, and the view that while both science and history study the past, they study it in different ways because historians do not retrodict the actions of historical agents in the ways in which an astronomer retrodicts a solar eclipse: history is concerned with the norms which govern the conduct of agents, norms which might differ from time to time, rather than with natural laws which are, by contrast, assumed to be invariant. Traditionally the claim that history has a distinctive explanandum that is irreducible to that of natural science was rejected by advocates of methodological unity in the sciences (paradigmatically Hempel in his 1942 paper “The Function of General Laws in History”) who claimed that all explanation appeals to laws and is at bottom nomological in nature. However, more recently the distinction between the historical and the natural past has come under attack from a rather different angle. The advent of the Anthropocene, a geological period in which human kind has become a significant geological force capable of initiating irreversible environmental changes, has prompted claims that narratives of historical development should go well beyond the relatively recent human past and view human kind in the context of a deeper, longer-term geological history. It is also claimed that the advent of the Anthropocene spells the end of the distinction between the historical and the natural past that was invoked to defend the disciplinary autonomy of history. Advocates of deeper historical narratives on a geological time scale claim that the distinction between the historical and the natural past is based on questionable anthropocentric assumptions, on a form of human exceptionalism which takes the human being out of the realm of nature. This paper defends the distinction between the historical and the natural past by challenging the claim that the historical past is indistinguishable from the human past. It argues that the historical past is not the human past, but the past studied by the methods of history and rebuts the argument that since the historical past is synonymous with the human past, and that since the human past is part of the natural past, then the historical past is just a small part of the natural past. While the expression “human past” is often used as a shorthand to refer to the historical past, they are not the same: traditional analytic philosophy of history based its defence of the methodological autonomy of history not on the claim that history studies the past deeds of human beings, but on the claim that historical inferences are different from the nomological inferences one finds in the inductive sciences and thus that history and science have distinctive explananda. The conceptual distinction between these kinds of inferences is not made obsolete by the advent of the Anthropocene.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the accepted author manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Southeast Academic Research at http://www.seu.edu.cn/english/main.htm - please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Anthropocene, historical past, natural past, Collingwood
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Politics, Philosophy, International Relations and Environment
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2018 14:22
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2019 01:30
URI: https://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/5588

Actions (login required)

View Item
View Item