Not Signed-In
Select and review.
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

to Folksonomy

Can't access your account?

New to Folksonomy?

Sign-Up or learn more.