Friday, January 14, 2011

History: Twice as Useful as Philosophy

As the great Michel de Montaigne famously said, "philosopher, c'est apprendre à mourir."  According to Felipe Fernández-Armesto:
There are, in my submission, only two reasons for studying anything: to enhance life and to prepare for death. The study of history embraces life because it conjures in the mind a vivid context for the appreciation and understanding of encounters with people and with artefacts, with streets and texts, with landscapes and ruins.  And it prepares you for death by cultivating what [E. H.] Carr called 'imaginative understanding', which some contributors to this volume would have called 'empathy' or other names of which Carr would disapprove.  By broadening the mind, by exercising the ability to understand the other, history has a moral effect on the person that studies it.  It can make you a better person.  Our best peculiar justification for history is to say that it needs no justification.  Because it is everything, it is inescapable.  You can say of it what Mallory said of Everest.

— Felipe Fernández-Armesto, "Epilogue:  What is History Now?" in David Cannadine, ed., What is History Now? (Houndsmills and NY:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 154

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