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Reference and colligation

The central question in this section is whether a colligatory concept can be an accurate representation of historical reality. The concept 'accurate' implies something like a faithful representation or a correspondence to facts. In Chapter 4 the notion of representation was already discussed at length. This discussion showed how Ankersmit has argued against the copy or resemblance theory of representation, and I think he has been correct to have done so. However, while he bases his argument on the nature of the central theses (that is, narrative substances) of history books, my focus is on colligatory concepts, which however leads to the same overall conclusion about the status of historiography: historiographical (re)presentation cannot be a faithful copy of historical reality. My argument for this conclusion can be summarized as follows: (1) historiography cannot do without colligatory concepts; (2) colligatory concepts are not objectively given and do not refer to corresponding entities in historical reality; (3) the truth of a statement in the sense of correspondence requires reference; (4) therefore, historiography cannot be true in the correspondence sense. It is time to spell out the premises.

Why do we need colligatory expressions? The pre-narrativist philosophers highlighted many indispensable functions that these expressions serve in historiography, as discussed above. To suggest eliminating them amounts to requesting a fundamental renewal of historical language. This smacks of arrogance to say the least. With what right could philosophers ask historians to change their language, which appears to be well-functioning and warranted? (cf. Tucker 2004, 138). The excessively ambitious project of the early logical positivists springs to mind; they wished to do something similar with the language of science and reduce it to directly observational expressions. More importantly, removing colligatory concepts from historiography would neuter its language and mean losing the most interesting and powerful features of historiography. Historiography is full of colligatory concepts: 'Antiquity', the 'Renaissance', the 'Baroque', the 'Enlightenment', the 'Second World War', 'Finlandization', the 'Cold War', the 'Industrial Revolution', the 'Scientific Revolution', etc. Concepts like these are loaded with meaning and are most colorful and useful in our attempts to make the past intelligible. Historiography would be much impoverished without them. They are an inherent part of historiographical discourse, as Walsh stated. L. B. Cebik writes that colligation 'is simply the way historians ... go about making assertions about events and other sorts of things' (Cebik 1969, 57). It is reasonable to conclude that currently it is unavoidable, and more, even desirable, to accept colliga- tory language as historiographical language. To suggest otherwise would amount to little more than philosophical hubris.

It is somewhat more difficult to show why colligatory concepts are not objectively given and cannot be true in the sense of correspondence. I will begin from the idea that they could be literally true of the historical world. It is clear from the outset that this is not a promising approach. For example, it would be fanciful to suggest that at the time of Stalin's rule the world was literally frozen and began to thaw only when Khrushchev assumed power. I am sure that Soviet citizens experienced many warm summers, as well as cold winters, during the years of Stalin's reign! Colligatory expressions are typically metaphorical, or at least not self-evidently descriptive.

In order to consider the problem above in a less figurative way one may inquire whether colligatory terms (terms that denote colligatory concepts) refer to some entities in the external world. Let us consider a statement containing a colligatory expression: 'The Cold War was dangerous'. Does the 'Cold War' in the sentence refer? It seems very odd to think so. It is worth clarifying that 'reference' is understood here as in the case of proper names, which refer to individuals, and thus provides a kind of default understanding also in discussions that focus on theoretical terms in the philosophy of science. The name 'Barack Obama' refers to one individual only, namely to the person who is the president of the USA in 2015. What would be a particular to which the 'Cold War' refers? Colligatory expressions do not seem to instantiate any individual - they do not seem to correspond to any singular object in the historical world.2 As discussed earlier, colligatory concepts seem to be like shorthand for organizing historical data. They tie, group or join objects together. They are thus unifying expressions. If this is so, it is necessary to ask where the organizing principles that underlie colligations come from?

A useful way to address this question is to ask whether an organizing principle is object-sided or subject-sided.3 More conventionally, one could ask whether an organizing principle is objective, thus of the object, or subjective, thus of the subject. Can the principle be somehow reduced to the historian-independent historical world? Can we see colligatory organizations as being 'natural' in the sense that perhaps elements in the periodic table are? Is a principle, such as a certain shared quality, contained in the objects themselves, as is the case with 'natural kinds'? Often membership in a natural kind category is seen to be determined on the basis of possessing certain essential qualities. For example, samples of water have to have a certain molecular structure (H2O) in order to qualify as 'water'.

It seems obvious that this strategy is not going to work with colliga- tory notions and with instances they subsume in historiography. The objects that the 'Thaw' subsumes under it can be very different, such as the publication of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Densovich, greater tolerance for humor in what is said and published, and the release of prisoners from the Gulag. It is difficult to see anything 'natural' in putting this group together in exactly this way to suggest that only the 'Thaw' can colligate them correctly. There are no essences or even any obvious shared qualities. Now, one might be tempted to suggest that, if a definition of colligated objects by a set of shared necessary and sufficient conditions (that is, possession of exactly the same set of properties) does not work, then perhaps one could try a family-resemblance definition. The idea is, in other words, that although colligated objects might not have any properties in common, they resemble each other. However, this does not seem to help either. If yet a few more objects that may be potentially subsumed under the 'Thaw' are added, such as economic reform and foreign policy visitations, the reason becomes evident. All these objects are very different and it would baseless to claim that they all resemble each other due to some given set of object-sided qualities. It is worth adding that even if one were to spot a shared property among all the objects under a certain colligatory concept, one could not from this infer that it provides the only correct 'natural' classification of the objects. The lack of essences, similarities and differences between objects form, in principle, an endless array and source for categorizations. This is to say that many colligatory arrangements are possible without anyone them being uniquely privileged.

 
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