Methods for Historians of Philosophy


I'm planning a workshop with Robert Rynasiewicz. Here's what it is about:

Historians of philosophy have been considerably less concerned with their methodology than their counterparts in other areas of history. While historians can look back on centuries of debate about their perspectives, approaches and methods, and while historians of science have deliberated about their precise relation to the sciences and other disciplines since the inception of the history of science as a separate discipline roughly a century ago, these worries are not prominent in the history of philosophy.  Why is this?  Perhaps, unlike, say, historians of physics, who may have been initially trained as physicists only subsequently to retool, historians of philosophy count themselves professionally as philosophers, rather than as practitioners of a separated field, and easily find themselves in dialogue with their forebears, dialogue that leverages the usual arsenal of philosophical techniques.  This may seem natural if the subject matter of history of philosophy is thought in its broadest sense, the assessment of which involves chiefly philosophical methods.  

The proposed workshop proceeds from a different presupposition.  Understanding historically situated thought requires, at minimum, an assessment of purpose, as well as attention to context, whether political, social or scientific. One may then ask questions about motivation, influence, causal relations and progress.  Moreover, in writing the history of philosophy, matters of point of view and intended audience figure importantly.  The goal of the workshop is to probe the extent to which a philosophical historiography is possible, whether it suffices, say, to borrow from that of the history of science, or whether and to what extent it demands categories and techniques of its own.

Also check out my bibliography on the topic, if you want to dig deeper.