Volume 38, 2008
Philosophy of History
The Epistemology of Claims about the Recent Past in Historiography and Psychoanalysis
The purpose in this text is to focus on one of the possible use of broadly psychoanalytic concepts in history: the analysis and treatment of historical testimonies by witnesses of “traumatic events”. A number of historians have proposed that some witness accounts could be understood as “elaborations of the past”, in the technical psychoanalytic sense. My interest is in the question whether the discourse of the psychoanalytic patient and the historical testimony by the traumatized witness possess the same epistemological status, as claimed by the historians alluded to. My view is that the claims of similarity should be resisted.Is philosophy
relevant to everyday life? Is it not too abstract and general? The knowledge of priests, psychologists or physicians is as abstract and general, yet its relevance is not contested. Is not its relevance limited to the case of the rare sage which is both able to discuss complex philosophical matters and ready to adopt “the philosophical attitude” to life? Such popular notions ignore controversies with regard to the existence of such sages, the content of their alleged wisdom, or the nature or impact of their “philosophical attitude”. Modern philosophy is generally much more skeptical, realistic, pluralistic and therefore “democratic” than
the elitist classics. It does not trust myths about the “good life” of the wise, nor ignore their preoccupation with death.