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10 Historically Speaking · May/June 2005 century. Since Bartolus's writings are difficult and subject to notoriously conflicting interpretations, here too there was much latitude for putting the tools of history to work. The upshot was that Coming's argument missed the point that Bartolus had made, begged the question, and changed the subject under investigation. No historical development could be identified that would explain the change in question. Chapter Five states conclusions. QED The point is not that historians are biased. The point is that studying history is in and of itselfto take a stand in favor of a certain form of order. Taking that stand is to exclude by definition some other stands from the impartial presentation at which history ostensibly aims. To the extent that we identify with history , we are disqualified from seeing what it excludes, except perhaps indirectly, out ofthe corner ofthe eye I tried to open in The Limits ofHistory. That may not come as much of a surprise. Surprising, to me at least, is only the self-confidence with which historians seem to believe that it is possible to take a stand on history without excluding anything at all from comprehension. In order to avoid confusion I would like to emphasize that I share none of the gloom arising from the view that language is a selfreferential system, such that its signs do not allow us to gain access to reality itself, but only to linguistically constructed reality. The gloom may be a fair price to pay for those who are convinced that knowledge does not qualify as real unless it is as clear and distinct as Descartes maintained it ought to be. But I do not believe that it is tenable for creatures who rely on language for their knowledge to distinguish between linguistically constructed knowledge and knowledge of "real" reality, even ifthe distinction is made only to rule out the possibility of knowing "real" reality. I could not agree more that our knowledge is linguistically constructed. But far from making it unreal, that is what makes it knowledge. As far as I can tell, we do know what is real, and we can tell what happened. We just never know it as clearly as we would like. Precisely because it is real, our knowledge is fuzzy, incomplete, and changing. I do not see that anything is wrong with that. Taking no stand at all is certainly not an option. Thucydides is famous for having said that in writing the history of the Peloponnesian War he wanted to produce a possession for all time. Ifby "possession for all time" he meant (which I do not believe he did) a kind of knowledge that can be carried from one context to another without requiring any change at all, he would have been wrong. The reality we perceive is partially the product of our knowledge. The knowledge of the past that we can have is therefore just as fleeting as the past we study—no more, no less. That is no counsel of despair, but merely an acknowledgment that all things change. Constantin Fasolt, author ofThe Limits of History (University ofChicago Press, 2004), is professor ofhistory at the University ofChicago. He is general editor o/New Perspectives on the Past, an interdisciplinary series oforiginal books onfundamental aspects ofhistoryfor specialists and non-specialists that is published by Blackwell Publishers. A Dangerous Form of Criticism Allan Megill Constantin Fasolt's The Limits of History is a remarkable book. On one level it is about Hermann Conring, who, although he was one ofthe most prominent scholars in 17th-century Lower Saxony, has hardly been heard of since. Conring was not up to the level of, say, Leibniz and Hobbes, both of whom were writers of such depth and imagination that subsequent philosophers have turned to them again and again for stimulus in thinking about ontology and politics. Were The Limits ofHistory only about Conring, few people would find it worth reading. But Fasolt has had the wit to go beyond the book that he might have written —a rather pedantic and inconclusive study of a now obscure thinker—and has instead written a book of far broader...


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