Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

Re: History is Myth, Theory is Story

Expand Messages
  • kalawar
    Professional historians seem to be talking about some of the issues being raised here. The linked article below takes up the case of how to write history of
    Message 1 of 12 , May 1, 2006
      Professional historians seem to be talking about some of the issues
      being raised here. The linked article below takes up the case of how
      to write history of western India between 1400-1700. We may not all
      agree about the relationship between power structure and historical
      traditions and practices that this author claimes to show. Here is a
      quote, followed by the link:

      "In recent decades, historians have increasingly turned to consider
      the institutional practices, epistemological assumptions, and silent
      exclusions that shape the discipline.1 This reflexive movement has led
      to the identification of difference and disjunction in the formerly
      seamless lineage from classical Greece to twentieth-century Europe,
      and has encouraged a search for alternate and parallel forms of
      historical knowledge. It has prompted a reconsideration of neglected
      hermeneutic issues that a generation of historians had disregarded in
      the frenzy of scientism.2 The entire process is itself rooted in
      larger changes in the world of learning, by which knowledge has become
      "retrospective and critical, more concerned with the reconstruction of
      the past, of the practices in which people made knowledges—which is to
      say, historical."3 1
      Historical problematics themselves emerge historically. So do
      the meta-systems that distinguish "native traditions" from "scientific
      history"—a distinction suddenly imposed in much of the colonial world
      at the end of the nineteenth century. I will address both these points
      through a study of the changing deployment of the historical narrative
      in Marathi—a major language of western India whose literary traditions
      go back to the twelfth century C. E., early in what Sheldon Pollock
      has called the vernacular millennium.4 This article traces the
      socio-political structures that generated and marked this narrative
      genre from the sixteenth century onward. I will show how it emerged
      and how it changed: first in the eighteenth century with the rise to
      subcontinental prominence of a Marathi-speaking elite, and again with
      the establishment of British colonial rule a century later.5 By
      analyzing the changing response to these narratives through the past
      five centuries, we can gain a new perspective on the generative
      relations between structures of power, on the one hand, and historical
      traditions and practices, on the other.6 But before that, let me begin
      by situating modern evaluations of pre-colonial texts within the
      comparative global setting that began with the Enlightenment discovery
      and ranking of "civilizations." 2
      Speaking very broadly, the historiography of India has hitherto
      been marked by two opposed positions: either that Indic civilization
      lacked any capacity for rational history, or that it had always
      possessed a distinguishably historical tradition. This issue really
      gained significance with the worldwide spread of Western power in the
      nineteenth century. Western historical practice took institutional
      shape in the century after the French Revolution, an epoch marked by
      global imperialisms that were driven by metropolitan, and opposed by
      emergent, nationalisms. As François Furet describes it, history now
      became "the genealogical tree of European nations and of the
      civilization they bore."7 To be a nation, and not (as Winston
      Churchill famously described India) "merely a geographical
      expression," it was necessary to have a historical consciousness."

      http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/109.4/guha.html


      --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "kannan7s"
      <kannan7s@...> wrote:
      >
      >
      > 1. What is the distinction between Myth and Story? Per present
      > usage, History can be Myth or Story.
      >
      > The gist of the position seems to be that human beings will use
      > whatever is available to them (history, scientific theory, etc) as
      > stories as they go about in the world.
      >
      > > Similarly, what is the use of history? History acts just like the
      > material of myth. All the history that we know may well be mythical.
      > It does the same thing for us that myth does. The only difference is
      > that there is a presumption that what is important is its factuality,
      > while its reality in our world is that of a psychological device akin
      > to myth.
      > >
      > > How would we write our history for the future if we were aware of
      > that? What does Tulsidas means when he says there are shat-koti
      > Ramayana i.e. there are a billion Ramayanas? Why did Indians have
      > less use for making the distinction between history and myth
      > important?
      >
      > 2. If insisting on establishing 'factual' or 'objective' truth is a
      > source of problems, it is also a source of solutions. I suppose this
      > is acknowledged.
      >
      > If we were to write history without consideration of 'facts' and only
      > considering as important the psychological impact of the written
      > word, how would we generate knowledge about the world? The output of
      > such writings would not be *knowledge about the world*.
      >
      > A passage from Tulsidas about 'shat-koti Ramayana', whether it is
      > labeled 'history' or 'myth' or 'story' or 'poetry', is not *knowledge
      > about the world*. It is something else.
      >
      > (More specifically, it is not a theory.)
      >
      > Kannan
      >
      >
      > --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "Sankrant Sanu"
      > <Sankrant@> wrote:
      > >
      > > When the Buddha says that attachment causes suffering, it is less
      > interesting whether that statement is factually and objectively true,
      > but what results and effects that particular description of the world
      > has on our actions. Do you find a lot of Buddhist debates on whether
      > that statement of Buddha is factually true?
      > >
      > > I am not claiming here that it does not matter what theory is
      > chosen, or how it is selected--it matters just as much as what story
      > is chosen. Rather, I am venturing to suggest that for most of us in
      > the world, theories have the same effect as stories and we use
      > theories, as particular kinds of narratives, just like we use stories.
      > >
      > > Similarly, what is the use of history? History acts just like the
      > material of myth. All the history that we know may well be mythical.
      > It does the same thing for us that myth does. The only difference is
      > that there is a presumption that what is important is its factuality,
      > while its reality in our world is that of a psychological device akin
      > to myth.
      > >
      > > How would we write our history for the future if we were aware of
      > that? What does Tulsidas means when he says there are shat-koti
      > Ramayana i.e. there are a billion Ramayanas? Why did Indians have
      > less use for making the distinction between history and myth
      > important?
      > > ----- Original Message -----
      > > From: jakobderoover
      > > To: TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com
      > > Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 1:20 AM
      > > Subject: [TheHeathenInHisBlindness] Re: History is Myth, Theory
      > is Story
      > >
      > >
      > > Dear Sankrant,
      > >
      > >
      > > 1. While it is the case that no theory gives us 'absolute factual
      > > truth', there are some problems with your claims that 'all
      > history is
      > > myth' and 'all theory is story'. Theories do not discover absolute
      > > factual truth, because they can always be improved upon as
      > > descriptions of the world. The history of the sciences shows that
      > all
      > > theories are tentative and hypothetical in this sense. But from
      > this
      > > it does not follow that all theory is story or all history is
      > myth.
      > > This would imply that we have no criteria to choose between
      > different
      > > theories but narrative quality and contemporary relevance.
      > However, in
      > > the sciences, we do have rational criteria to assess the
      > comparative
      > > value of competing theories: internal consistency, conceptual
      > clarity,
      > > testability, refinability, etc. So, from the claim that there is
      > no
      > > objective truth to be found, one cannot conclude that all
      > theories are
      > > equally valid stories: some theories are still cognitively
      > superior to
      > > others. The search, then, is not for 'absolute factual truth',
      > but for
      > > hypotheses which improve upon the current theoretical knowledge
      > about
      > > a particular phenomenon. These new hypotheses will inevitably
      > turn out
      > > to be false, once better ones are developed, but they do give us
      > more
      > > insights into the world than the earlier ones. This is what the
      > > Darwinian evolution story does, for instance, in comparison to
      > > creationism.
      > >
      > > 2. This is as true for history as for any other domain of human
      > > knowledge. True, historians have so far rarely succeeded at
      > developing
      > > powerful hypotheses about the history of any culture or society.
      > But
      > > this has more to do with the current state of the human sciences
      > than
      > > with some intrinsic impossibility to develop knowledge about
      > history
      > > which is not myth. "All we will have is changing competing
      > > interpretations on fragmentary historical artifacts," you write.
      > > Exactly, but again this does not mean we do not have cognitive
      > > criteria to choose between these competing interpretations. Take
      > your
      > > example of Aryan Invasion Theory and its role in the standard
      > accounts
      > > of the caste system. Let us say it turns out that this theory
      > > confronts severe problems in terms of empirical tests and that its
      > > plausibility as an explanation for the caste system depends on the
      > > religious assumptions of 19th-century scholars from Europe. After
      > the
      > > necessary research, one can then generate a better hypothesis
      > about
      > > the development of the Indian culture and its social structures.
      > If
      > > this is all a question of myth, then the classical Indological
      > account
      > > of the development from Brahmanism (the religion of the Aryan
      > priests)
      > > to Hinduism (the result of a corrupting mix between Brahmanism
      > and the
      > > popular religions of the earlier inhabitants of India) is as
      > valid as
      > > any new hypothesis we shall develop.
      > >
      > > 3. The problem arises because of the assumption that only two
      > options
      > > are available: either (a) science and history are pursuits of an
      > > 'objective and absolute factual truth' or (b) all theories and
      > > histories are equally true stories and factual knowledge is
      > illusory.
      > > Once one becomes aware that the assessment of theories is always a
      > > comparative affair according to rational criteria, this
      > disjunction
      > > turns out to be false. Unfortunately, this disjunction also
      > limits our
      > > imagination when we try to understand different cultures: Western
      > > culture becomes an expression of (a), while Asian culture becomes
      > an
      > > expression of (b). For instance, you write that the claim that
      > > 'factual knowledge is illusory' is 'an essential part of Buddhist
      > > teaching'. When the Buddha says that attachment causes suffering
      > is
      > > this not a factual claim about human psychology? If it is not,
      > how is
      > > it different from the factual knowledge claims of psychological
      > theories?
      > >
      > >
      > > Yours,
      > >
      > >
      > > Jakob
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > --------------------------------------------------------------------
      > ----------
      > > YAHOO! GROUPS LINKS
      > >
      > > a.. Visit your group "TheHeathenInHisBlindness" on the web.
      > >
      > > b.. To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
      > > TheHeathenInHisBlindness-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
      > >
      > > c.. Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms
      > of Service.
      > >
      > >
      > > --------------------------------------------------------------------
      > ----------
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      > >
      >
    • kannan7s
      ... about ... and ... with ... want ... trapped ... true, ... world ... and, ... and false ... a ... Dear Balu, In light of your remarks above, what is your
      Message 2 of 12 , May 2, 2006
        --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "Balagangadhara"
        <balu@...> wrote:
        >
        > Dear Sankrant,
        >
        > 1. Perhaps, it is of some interest for you to know that speaking
        about
        > the 'use' or the 'results and effects' of theories has a very
        > venerable ancestry in the western philosophy. It is called
        > "pragmatism", if the 'truth' is coupled to the 'uses' and 'results
        and
        > effects'; it becomes "instrumentalism", if the notion of truth is
        > dispensed with. So, it might be useful if you were to familiarize
        with
        > their arguments. (There is nothing specifically 'Indian' with these
        > claims, nor is there (of course) any need for there to be something
        > specifically Indian.)
        >
        > 2. If you do not familiarize yourself with these philosophies and
        want
        > to discover the wheel all over again and on your own, you get
        trapped
        > in inconsistencies, which make it difficult to carry on a
        > conversation. For instance, here is what you write: "it is less
        > interesting whether that statement is factually and objectively
        true,
        > but what results and effects that particular description of the
        world
        > has on our actions." Let me identify the inconsistency first and
        > indicate just one other problem.
        >
        > You speak of "a particular *description of the world*". If it is a
        > *description*, then the predicates 'true' and 'false' are the only
        > ones we can use to judge it: some statement purports to be a
        > *description of the world*, and we can judge whether it fulfils that
        > goal or not. You cannot speak about a *description* of the world
        and,
        > at the same time, dismiss the use of the predicates 'true'
        and 'false'
        > as "uninteresting". These predicates are the *only ways* of judging
        a
        > description of the world.
        >
        > Now to the problem. The 'truth' or the 'falsity' of a description of
        > the world is a very good reason to choose or reject that particular
        > description. In fact, as I have just noted above, that is the only
        > reason that is rationally defensible. Otherwise, one could just as
        > well suggest that one chooses the fascist theory, even though it is
        > known to be a false description of the world, because of its 'uses'
        > and 'results and effects' both of which are salutary to the one who
        > chooses it.
        >
        > Friendly greetings
        >
        > Balu
        >


        Dear Balu,

        In light of your remarks above, what is your position on what the
        the 'pragmatists' have to say? e.g. William James' essay, "The Will
        to Believe"?

        Does 'pragmatism' depart from the position that what one believes has
        to be proportional to the evidence?

        Kannan
      • kannan7s
        ... At first glance, it s not clear why the writing of history has to have a historical hypothesis either implicit or explicit, other than (apparently) to make
        Message 3 of 12 , May 2, 2006
          --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "vnr1995"
          <vnr1995@...> wrote:

          > Talking about history is vague; we have to be clear about what is
          > being explained. One can write a political history, cultural
          > history, etc. This writing presupposes some or another hypothesis:
          > implicitly when the historian has vague clues of what he is
          > defending; explicitly when he is clear about the historical
          > hypothesis.
          >

          At first glance, it's not clear why the writing of history has to
          have a historical hypothesis either implicit or explicit, other than
          (apparently) to make the content of history 'interesting'.

          However, to write a particular history ('political' or 'cultural')
          because it is 'interesting' would be a frivolous reason to write
          history.

          We do not study 'force' and 'energy' in Physics because they are
          interesting but because they explain identifiable physical phenomena.

          So, I take it we would write a 'political history' or a 'cultural
          history' because 'politics' and 'culture' are phenomena to be
          explained in the realm of social interactions?

          Kannan
        • vnr1995
          In a way, one starts investigating some phenomena, because the latter puzzles, and/or interests, him: the developement of natural sciences in the West is one
          Message 4 of 12 , May 2, 2006
            In a way, one starts investigating some phenomena, because the latter
            puzzles, and/or interests, him: the developement of natural sciences
            in the West is one such instance. Even though Balu's hypothesis is
            worthy of pursuing (and this does not entail accepting his hypothesis)
            many scholars may not find it interesting and worth pursuing: one
            reviwer, esp Gerald Larson, said that Balu recycled old ideas. This
            has to do with Larson's 'naive' notions of what knowledge is; of what
            hypothesis is; of what theory is; etc. In other words, we all humans
            have varied backgrounds; upon such a background, some issues are not
            found to be interesting.

            What is history: it is a past. Why there is a need for historical
            description? Simply because of conceptual and empirical problems
            arising out of commonsense. A simple set of propositions like "X is Y,
            Y is Z, and X is not Z" forces us to conduct empirical investigation.


            It is totally different question why Indian culture wasn't hell-bent
            on writing histories the way Western culture has been. Balu gave clues
            for this question, and pointed where to look for (western) culturally
            specific assumptions in the historiography.

            After all, Darwinian explanation is a historical explanation.


            Is historical description same as historical explanation? Yes and No.
            Yes, every explanation is a description; No, not every description,
            even though hypothetical, is an explanation.

            One can make us criteria developed in philosophies of sciences while
            defending some historical description being better than other. Then,
            there exists tools brought forth by western historiography. The
            dispute, if Indians want to dispute at all, should be focussed on
            assumptions in such historiography. However, we have two brands among
            Indians: one says, everything is illusory((being crushed under train
            is also an illusion!); the other accept the assumptions of
            historiography, and, within that framework, engage disputes with both
            the western and the western-trained intellectuals.








            --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "kannan7s"
            <kannan7s@...> wrote:
            >
            > --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "vnr1995"
            > <vnr1995@> wrote:
            >
            > > Talking about history is vague; we have to be clear about what is
            > > being explained. One can write a political history, cultural
            > > history, etc. This writing presupposes some or another hypothesis:
            > > implicitly when the historian has vague clues of what he is
            > > defending; explicitly when he is clear about the historical
            > > hypothesis.
            > >
            >
            > At first glance, it's not clear why the writing of history has to
            > have a historical hypothesis either implicit or explicit, other than
            > (apparently) to make the content of history 'interesting'.
            >
            > However, to write a particular history ('political' or 'cultural')
            > because it is 'interesting' would be a frivolous reason to write
            > history.
            >
            > We do not study 'force' and 'energy' in Physics because they are
            > interesting but because they explain identifiable physical phenomena.
            >
            > So, I take it we would write a 'political history' or a 'cultural
            > history' because 'politics' and 'culture' are phenomena to be
            > explained in the realm of social interactions?
            >
            > Kannan
            >
          Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.