History as Philosophy? Genealogies and Critique

Are genealogies of our beliefs relevant to the truth of these beliefs? Drawing on Bernard Williams’s <i>Truth and Truthfulness</i>, I argue that genealogies, or historical narratives showing how a set of beliefs came about, can be either critical or vindicatory of these beliefs. They can be critical by denaturalizing beliefs, showing their continued inability to solve explanatory problems, revealing the origins of these beliefs in assumptions that we no longer accept, and exposing unwelcome practical applications of these beliefs. Genealogies can be vindicatory by showing that the framework of beliefs has the ability to innovate itself and has led to acceptable practical applications of the beliefs in question. However, if contingency creates the space for genealogies in philosophical arguments, it also limits their effectiveness. In most cases, genealogies do not offer conclusive arguments for or against the beliefs they narrate. They either point out a contradiction that needs to be resolved, or show that the framework of beliefs has been successful so far, with no guarantees for such success in the future.