A: Let’s critique history.
B: Like what?
A: Like Kant’s critique of metaphysics.
B: That didn’t leave all that much. Certainly very little of what was left before.
A: Maybe not. I want to give an account of history as unscience.
B: Understand it as the opposite of science, then.
B: But hasn’t that critique been quietly playing itself out? Who would ever write a book like Hegel these days? We’d all roll our eyes and snicker at grand claims of universal structure in history. No one would ever teach history as a science these days.
A: I think this is a verbal solution to a much more difficult problem. Sure, we don’t use the word “science” but we treat the thing we’re studying as a scientific entity.
A: We divide it up into stages of natural progression like it’s an organism. We pull back from the data and see eras like “Middle Ages” and “Reformation” and “Enlightenment”.
B: Sure, these are rough and inadequate generalizations and everyone recognizes that these days.
A: But that’s being understood on an analogy to the sciences too. A scientist will, say, disregard friction when watching things roll in order to get a clearer view of the main law governing the roll. But what if there is no underlying law to see? What good is the simplification?
B: So this is the sort of vanity you see in history?
A: Yeah. I want to turn simplification, which is so effective in science, into an analogy against history.
B: Why say there is no law though? Isn’t there a logic to decision that plays itself out over time?
A: No – a law is timeless but action is not.
B: Say more.
A: Laws are essentially predictive but history will never give us anything predictive. A predicting historian can’t be anything more than lucky. History never gets beyond time to law. How could it? What good is this simplification process?
B: That goes way too far. Look, human action has effects on the world, and some actions have way more effect than others. You can’t tell people to stop noticing this.
A: Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. History is becomes collective psychology. How were human beings affected by events and what effects did this lead to. Once we have a descent idea of psychological mechanisms, history should be a cinch.
B: And I suppose you think we have none.
A: Look, the history of psychiatry is not exactly a heroic narrative of success. How many Schools have been formed and lost? Is there anything more quaint than a 60 year old theory about a case file? I see no reason to think that 60 years from now they’ll read ours in the same way, and so on ad infinitum. Is schizophrenia any more defined than neurasthenia? Sure, maybe we have a little more data, but all the categories are inadequate.
B: You and the extremes!
A: And you are always counseling a confused moderation that never says anything definite.