Alison Ross on Richard Eldridge’s “Images of History”

 

RICHARD ELDRIDGE | Images of History: Kant, Benjamin, Freedom, and the Human Subject | Oxford University Press 2016


 

“Historical understanding is conjectural, imaginative, and projective as much as it is archival and systematic.”

Images of History, p. 148

By Alison Ross

At the beginning of Richard Eldridge’s Images of History, he presents the difference between history as a “mere chronicle of the incidental” and “writing […] political and social history” so that “related causes and outcomes” are identified in relation to ideals (p. 3). There is a difficulty in arriving at retrospective certainty about the causes and meanings of one’s actions (p. 1), but the analogy to historical “causes and outcomes” gives this difficulty a distinctive shape, which Eldridge parses as “modern problems of orientation” (p. 17; emphasis added).

An individual may not know from introspective examination whether they responded to someone’s distress from selfless concern, or whether they were polishing their self-conception as a moral paragon. How they characterise their behaviour does not resolve this issue satisfactorily, if one is interested in (Kantian) questions of moral intention.

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