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12 MAY 2013

Can Histories Be True? Narrativism, Positivism, and the MetaphoricalTurn

"Narrativism, as represented by Hayden White and Frank Ankersmit, can fruitfully be analyzed as an inversion of two brands of positivism. First, narrativist epistemology can be regarded as an inversion of empiricism. Its thesis that narratives function as metaphors which do not possess a cognitive content is built on an empiricist, 'picture view' of knowledge. Moreover, all the non–cognitive aspects attributed as such are dependent on this picture theory of knowledge and a picture theory of representation. Most of the epistemological characteristics that White and Ankersmit attribute to historical narratives therefore share the problems of this picture theory.

The article's second thesis is that the theories of narrative explanation can also fruitfully be analyzed as inversions of positivist covering–law theory. Ankersmit's brand of narrativism is the most radical in this respect because it posits an opposition between narrative and causal modes of comprehension while simultaneously eliminating causality from narrativist historical understanding. White's brand of narrativism is more of a hybrid than is Ankersmit's as far as its theory of explanation is concerned; nevertheless, it can also be fruitfully interpreted as an inversion of covering–law theory, replacing it by an indefinite multitude of explanatory strategies.

Most of the striking characteristics of both White's and Ankersmit's narrativism pre–suppose positivism in these two senses, especially their claim that historical narratives have a metaphorical structure and therefore no truth–value. These claims are had to reconcile with the factual characteristics of debates by historians; this problem can be tracked down to the absence in 'metaphorical' narrativism of a conceptual connection between historical narratives and historical research."

(Chris Lorenz, 1998, Wiley–Blackwell)

Lorenz, C. (1998). "Can Histories Be True? Narrativism, Positivism, and the "MetaphoricalTurn"." History and Theory 37(3): 309–329.


causal modes of comprehensioncausality • cognitive content • conceptual connection • empiricism • emplotment • explanatory strategy • factual characteristics • Frank Ankersmit • Hayden White • historical chronicles • historical narrative • historical narrativeshistorical researchhistorical understandinghistoriesknowledge • metahistory • metanarrativemetaphormetaphoric reference • metaphorical narrativism • metaphorical representation • metaphorical structure • metaphorical turn • narrative explanation • narratives • narrativism • narrativist epistemology • picture theory • picture view of knowledge • positivismrepresentation • storied ways of communicating • storied ways of knowing • truth claims • truth-value


Simon Perkins
07 MAY 2011

Performativity involves a system logic that reduces questions of justice to questions of efficiency and has no interest in the unknown

"For Lyotard, performativity involves a system logic that reduces questions of justice to questions of efficiency and has no interest in the unknown because it falls outside the system as currently constituted. Against this he 'sketches the outline of a politics that would respect both the desire for justice and the desire for the unknown' (1984: 67). This involves turning away from performativity and towards the other possible legitimating criteria, consensus and paralogy. Lyotard argues that consensus, the criteria preferred by Habermas, is inadequate (1984: 60). It rests on a belief that it is possible to find a metalanguage that could translate all of the 'heteromorphous classes of utterance' into one another, and the assumption that it is possible for all speakers in scientific games to agree about this meta–language and that consensus is the goal of science (1984: 65). Against this, Lyotard argues that 'consensus is only a particular state of discussion, not its end. Its end, on the contrary is paralogy' (1984: 65–6)."

(Campbell Jones, p.512)

Campbell Jones (2003). "Theory after the Postmodern Condition." Organization 10(3): 503–525.

Jean–François Lyotard (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Fig.1 China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian perform in the pairs short programme during the Cup of China figure skating competition in Beijing November 5. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)



consensus • criteria • discussionefficiency • heteromorphous classes of utterance • Jean-Francois LyotardJurgen Habermaslegitimating criterialegitimationlogic • meta-language • metalanguage • metanarrativeparalogyperformativityPostmodern • scientific games • scientific goalsstateThe Postmodern Conditionunknown


Simon Perkins
19 OCTOBER 2008

Jean-François Lyotard: Legitimation of knowledge by performativity terrorises the production of ideas

"Lyotard argues that legitimation by performativity is against the interests of research. He does not claim that research should be aimed at production of 'the truth'; he does not try to re–invoke the metanarratives of modernity to legitimate research. Rather, he sees the role of research as the production of ideas. Legitimation of knowledge by performativity terrorises the production of ideas. What, then, is the alternative? Lyotard proposes that a better form of legitimation would be legitimation by paralogy. The etymology of this word resides in the Greek words para – beside, past, beyond – and logos in its sense as 'reason.' Thus paralogy is the movement beyond or against reason. Lyotard sees reason not as a universal and immutable human faculty or principle but as a specific and variable human production; 'paralogy' for him means the movement against an established way of reasoning. In relation to research, this means the production of new ideas by going against or outside of established norms, of making new moves in language games, changing the rules of language games and inventing new games. Lyotard argues that this is in fact what takes place in scientific research, despite the imposition of the performativity criterion of legitimation. This is particularly evident in what Lyotard calls 'postmodern science' – the search for instabilities. For Lyotard, knowledge is not only the known but also the 'revelation' or 'articulation' of the unknown. Thus he advocates the legitimation of knowledge by paralogy as a form of legitimation that would satisfy both the desire for justice and the desire for the unknown."

(Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)


Simon Perkins
11 OCTOBER 2005

Lyotard: Community As Heteromorphous Divergent Language Games

"The idea of a single, unified community of free thinkers and the idea of a unified community of free citizens, so important to the visions of enquiry and progress for the modern thinkers, are, for [Jean–Francois] Lyotard, fictions that can only result in the oppression of individuals. This notion is bound to be very difficult for many inquirers to accept. It is important to point out that a rejection of the idea of unity does not mean embracement of some kind of exclusionary ethos. The overall aim becomes diversification of enquiry....If the idea of a unified intellectual community is not desirable, what are the implications for the idea that enquiry is consistent with, and advance, the social good? For Lyotard, the social good resides in the recognition that human society, like nature, is composed of "heteromorphous" language games rather than being a whole (Lyotard, 1984, p.65). Any attempt toward achieving consensus by a new grand metanarrative to rescue humanity from system is out of the question, because such a project would invariably result in another oppressive system (Lyotard, 1984, p.66). Postmodern science suggests that social assent can only be legitimately comprised of "little narratives," language games whose rules and play are "locally determined." (Lyotard, 1984, p.61) The social end of enquiry is not consensus, but an open society that allows for a multiplicity of divergent games and encourages the ongoing imaginative creation of new ones, that is, local relations among small numbers of players"
(Lyotard, 1984, p.66 cited in Roger P. Mourad Jr. p.36).

Lyotard, Jean–Francois. 1984 p.65 The Postmodern Condition A Report on Knowledge, USA: University of Minnesota Press ISBN 0816611734

[Lyotard extends Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of "language games" to discuss an ideal for community that is defined through locally negotiated interactions and social interrelations.]



enquiry • heteromorphous • Jean-Francois Lyotardlanguage games • little narratives • Ludwig Wittgensteinmetanarrative • Postmodern science • Roger Mourad

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