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    Howells, Richard 1999. The Myth of the Titanic. p. 1.

  • Print publication year: 1980
  • Online publication date: August 2009

5 - Practising history and social science on ‘realist’ assumptions


But yet the minds of men are the great wheels of things; thence come changes and alterations in the world; teeming freedom exerts and puts itself forth.

(John Warr, The Corruption and Deficiency of the Laws of England (1649), quoted from Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London 1972), p. 219)

§ 1 This paper discusses a number of philosophical issues from the viewpoint of a practising social scientist and seeks to alert other social scientists to the significance of these issues for their conception of what they are attempting to do. Philosophers can thus afford to read the account of, for example, the indeterminacy of translation considerably more briskly than they would normally care to read a piece of philosophical writing. Moreover, ‘relativism’ and ‘realism’, as they appear here, are not proper philosophical terms of art. ‘Relativism’ is a name for the view that the truth is something which we make up (collectively or individually) more or less as we please. It is ours to make up. And if more or less, why not completely? ‘Realism’ names the view that whatever we make up less or more as we please is, it certainly is not the truth. This chapter attempts to throw some light on the intuitive appeal of relativism in this context, a context in which its appeal is in some ways surprising.

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Political Obligation in its Historical Context
  • Online ISBN: 9780511521362
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