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The Problem of Metahistory

Christopher Dawson attempts to rebut the arguments previously made by Alan Bullock

Metahistory is a new word and one which is as yet unfamiliar to the ordinary reader, so that it is perhaps necessary to define what we mean by it before any discussion of its function and value. I take it that the term was coined on the analogy of Metaphysics which is itself by no means an easy word to define. When Aristotle had written his books on Physics, he proceeded to discuss the ultimate concepts that underlie his physical theories: the nature of matter, the nature of being and the cause of motion and change. In the same way Metahistory is concerned with the nature of history, the meaning of history and the cause and significance of historical change. The historian himself is primarily engaged in the study of the past. He does not ask himself why the past is different from the present or what is the meaning of history as a whole. What he wants to know is what actually happened at a particular time and place and what effect it had on the immediate future. The facts may be of little importance, but if they are true facts, they are important to him if he is a true historian. The historian studies the past for its own sake with a disinterested passion that is its own reward.

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