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Constructing narratives and reading texts: Approaches to history and power struggles between philosophy and emergent disciplines in inter-war France

Chimisso, Cristina (2005). Constructing narratives and reading texts: Approaches to history and power struggles between philosophy and emergent disciplines in inter-war France. History of the Human Sciences, 18(3) pp. 83–107.

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In inter-war France, history of philosophy was a very important academic discipline, but nevertheless its practitioners thought it necessary to defend its identity, which was threatened by its vicinity to many other disciplines, and especially by the emergent social sciences and history of science. I shall focus on two particular issues that divided traditional historians of philosophy from historians of science, ethnologists and sociologists, and that became crucial in the definition of the identity of their disciplines: the conception of history and the interpretation of texts. By analysing representative discussions and positions, I shall show that traditional historians of philosophy needed to reassert their own approach to history, which, borrowing the term from Bergson, I define as ‘snapshot’. This approach is focused on a particular idea or text rather than a narrative. I shall also show that history of philosophy, in its traditional form, would have been undermined both intellectually and institutionally by the opposite ‘narrative’ approach of history of science and of the social sciences. Social scientists openly attacked history of philosophy’s methods and, in the eyes of traditional philosophers, its existence as an academic discipline. The same opposition is to be found in evaluation of past texts, which for traditional historians of philosophy were to be read as timeless documents, while for historians of science, ethnologists and sociologists were to be considered as documents exhibiting a particular mentality. However, between these alternatives there were intermediate positions. I shall in particular consider that of Léon Brunschvicg: he embraced a narrative approach and considered texts as documents of different ways of thinking, but at the same time carried on employing philosophical methods and defending the institutional position of philosophy. I shall argue that this was possible partly because of the considerable amount of power he enjoyed at the Sorbonne.

Item Type: Journal Item
ISSN: 0952-6951
Keywords: Brunschvicg; historiography; history of philosophy; history of science; social sciences
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Politics, Philosophy, Economics, Development, Geography
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 3118
Depositing User: Cristina Chimisso
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2006
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2017 10:29
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