- Virtue language in historical scholarship
- The cases of Georg Waitz, Gabriel Monod and Henri Pirenne
- History of European Ideas
- Volume | Issue number
- 42 | 7
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Regional, Transnational and European Studies (ARTES)
Historians of historiography have recently adopted the language of ‘epistemic virtues’ to refer to character traits believed to be conducive to good historical scholarship. While ‘epistemic virtues’ is a modern philosophical concept, virtues such as ‘objectivity’, ‘meticulousness’ and ‘carefulness’ historically also served as actors' categories. Especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, historians frequently used virtue language to describe what it took to be a ‘good’, ‘reliable’ or ‘professional’ scholar. Based on three European case studies—the German historian Georg Waitz (1813–86), his French pupil Gabriel Monod (1844–1912) and the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (1862–1935)—this article argues that such virtues cannot neatly be classified as ‘epistemic’ ones. For what is characteristic about virtue language in historical scholarship around 1900 is an overlap or entanglement of epistemic, moral and political connotations. The virtues embodied by, or attributed to, Waitz, Monod and Pirenne were almost invariably aimed at epistemic, moral and political goods at once, though not always to the same degrees. Consequently, if ‘epistemic virtues’ is going to be a helpful category, it must not be interpreted in a strong sense (‘only epistemic’), but in a weak one (‘epistemic’ as one layer of meaning among others).
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