What is Historical Truth? Historiography between the Sciences and the Humanities

By Günter Minnerup.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

One of the key issues in the traditional distinction between the “soft” humanities and the “hard” sciences has always been that of their different notions of “truth”. The natural sciences have been considered to generate “objective” truths, often formulated as “laws”, through the emprical verification (or, in Popper’s terms, “non-falsification”) of theoretical hypotheses by means of observation and experimental testing. In the humanities, by contrast, truth has been held to be a “matter of opinion”: truth relativism was generally accepted well before the advent of postmodernism. Since the “linguistic turn”, even the quest for truth has become suspect as a notion rooted in modernist metanarratives with their quasi-totalitarian truth claims, especially in the discipline of history where these metanarratives used to be particularly influential. This paper, proceding from the view that the various “postisms” (postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, postfeminism etc) that emanated from the “linguistic turn” are a symptom, rather than a solution, of the crisis of the humanities, re-examines the issue of truth in the humanities, and especially in history, by drawing on examples and issues from the history and philosophy of the natural sciences. The paper suggests that the differences between the “two cultures” of the humanities and sciences are less significant than generally assumed, and that the conventional sharp distinction between them owes more to mutual ignorance than to any deep epistemological or methodological differences.

Keywords: History, Science, Postmodernism, Truth, Relativism

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.39-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 495.665KB).

Günter Minnerup

Lecturer, School of History, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia


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