A pragmatist view on two accounts of the nature of our ‘connection’ with the past: Hayden White and David Carr thirty years later

Hayden White’s and David Carr’s most recent works can be viewed as a weakening of their earlier, more provocative stances emphasizing the core practical and ethical concerns involved in any consideration of the past. White’s distinction between the practical past and the historical past and Carr’s search for historical experience appear now to limit the practical consequences of their previous arguments. In this article, I consider John Dewey’s illuminating reflections on the pragmatist notion of the ‘practical’ and of ‘practical meaning’ in relation to the knowledge of the past (for contemporary philosophy of history in general and for the narrativist philosophy of history in particular). The meaning of our beliefs or ideas is understood and evaluated in terms of their practical consequences, where practical consequences do not mean utility but future procedures of justification.