IV Congreso Internacional
Historia a Debate
Santiago de Compostela, 15-19 de diciembre de 2010
Sección I. Oficio de historiador. 2. Innovaciones paradigmáticas. 2.1. Historia mixta como historia global
Jarmo Pulkkinen (University of Oulu, Finland)
From Positivism to Postpositivism Philosophers of History on Colligatory Concepts in the latter part of the 20th century
In the 1940s, W. H. Walsh introduced the term "colligatory concept" into the philosophy of history. He used it to describe such higher order concepts that are employed to bring order to the past (e.g. the concept of the Renaissance. Since the 1940s, the idea of colligation has been an important reference point for philosophers of history.
However, the ontological and epistemological status of colligatory concepts is problematic, i.e. they lack a directly observable referent.
For example, the Renaissance as a phenomenon is not unequivocally present in the historical sources themselves. It cannot be explained by solely referring to a concrete person or event in the past. It can only be explained by referring to interpretations made by historians on the basis of historical sources. In the 1980s, postmodern philosophers of history argued that colligatory concepts have no ontological status in the past itself. F. Ankersmit, for example, claimed that colligatory concepts are mere instruments for organizing our knowledge of the past, "without (themselves) referring to the past or describing it".
However, I want to defend the ontological status of colligatory concepts. In my view, post-positivistic and naturalistic philosophy of science provides a suitable framework for understanding the role and status of colligatory concepts in historical research. In short, in historical research colligatory concepts have a referring function similar to that of various theoretical terms in the natural sciences. Although neither the Renaissance nor the electron is directly observable, they are both useful and well-established theoretical concepts.