Truth, Objectivity and Evidence in History Writing

This article aims to suggest one possible – pragmatist in a very broad sense of the term – approach to making sense of the way truth and objectivity function within the discipline of history. It argues that history doesn’t need a new theory of truth; rather, it is necessary to analyse in theoretical terms how truth is understood and used in historical inquiry. This article considers truth as an epistemic term in a certain given – historiographical – use, and objectivity is understood as an epistemic virtue valued in a specific contemporary scientific community, that of professional historians.The main argument is developed in three interrelated steps. First, the article makes the case for a pragmatic “truth pact” in history writing, arguing that the conditions of historical truth depend on the illocutionary force of historical utterance. Second, it proposes that this “truth pact” is “guaranteed” by fellow historians or, in other words: truth claims in history writing are based not on their direct relation with reality but on a disciplinary consensus as to the methods of inquiry, cognitive values and epistemic virtues. Third, it will establish a clear connection between truth and proof in history writing, arguing that the “truth pact” is grounded in a critical analysis of the available evidence.