ReThink team member Jonas Ahlskog defends his doctoral dissertation titled “The Practical and the Historical Past: Four Essays on the Philosophy of History” on Friday 27 October, 2017 at 1 pm. The public defense takes place in the Armfelt auditorium at Åbo Akademi (Fabriksgatan 2, Turku).
The compilation thesis consists of four essays on the philosophy of history. The central question for all of the essays is how the picture of the past created by historians on the basis of evidence, i.e. the historical past, is related to our existential and ethical relations with the past. In recent philosophy of history, our existential and ethical relations have been conceptualised as a practical past wholly distinct from the historical past created by professional history. As a result, the practical past is construed as inherently instrumental, while our historical past is cast as an essentially alienated way of relating to the past.
The purpose of this thesis is to investigate and criticise the distinction between the practical and the historical past, and, concurrently, to show how our historical past involves practical relations and vice versa. This purpose is achieved by a philosophical analysis of two central concepts: the historical past and testimony. In the first two essays, the general topic is how the historical past necessarily relates to existential and practical concerns in the historian’s present. The second two essays on testimony, on the other hand, investigate the ways in which the historian’s picture of the past is, and is not, dependent on a particular social form of knowledge, i.e. testimonial knowledge. A more abstract way to describe the topics of the essays is to say that the first two essays are about existential and practical issues concerning meaning and understanding in history, and the two latter essays focus more on epistemological concerns about trust and the justification of belief in history.