Whistling history: Ankersmit's neo-Tractarian theory of historical representation*

Doubtless no one has written more over the last three decades on certain themes in the philosophy of history than has Frank Ankersmit. However, almost no one but Ankersmit still imagines there to be a need for a ‘philosophy of history’ as he conceives of it, i.e., one where ‘history’ names a sui generis form of knowledge, and so ‘philosophy of history’ as designating a subject matter that needs to articulate its own special principles of representation, experience, truth, meaning, and reference. Ankersmit has struggled over time to formulate a satisfactory answer, in short, to questions of his own making. Lacking has been a sustained examination of contemporary philosophy of language that actually establishes a need for a philosophy of history of the sort Ankersmit looks to provide. But Ankersmit's Meaning, Truth, and Reference in Historical Representation proposes to remedy that lack. With respect to the general issues at stake, exegetical disputes would be entirely beside the point if Ankersmit's philosophy could be cogently rationalized by just ignoring what he says about analytic philosophy of language. However, Ankersmit's philosophical rationale for his account of historical representation presupposes his particular reading. Without it, his philosophical defense of historicism vanishes, as does any motivation for taking seriously his project. Thus, examining the plausibility of his understanding of analytic philosophy of language becomes of decisive importance, and this review does so in some detail.