Is history subjective or objective?

How does relativism impact history?

To my knowledge, relativism asserts that certain things, such as moral declarations, aren’t factual. Insofar as history is factual, relativism plays no role in the subject.

So for example, let’s say that a history book outlined Napoleon’s battles, how they impacted the remainder of his reign, and his eventual defeat. Those details would be objective, and relativism would have nothing to say on the matter. If the author tried to characterize Napoleon as evil, then a relativist would point out that this is subjective and outside the jurisdiction of history. Napoleon did many good things, we simply perceive him as the bad guy because we inherit our views largely from the British, whom he fought.

Realize that historians are subjective if they choose not to report events.

There really is no way a historian can be purely objective. They are always making choices on what to report, what to leave out, and how they report.

Or, as they say, it’s the winning side who writes the history books.

I agree. Apart from the hard facts involving dates of specific events, much of history is interpretive and biased though not necessarily in a bad way. Just as in psychology, there is no such thing as neutral perception, there is no neutral history.

Heh. I like to point out that the second history ever written, the history of the Peloponnesian War was written by Thucydides, an Athenian. The losers.

People use the word relativism to mean different things. How do you mean it? Then we can start on the question.

As one who has written histories, I can say that I do my best to be impartial. However, where accounts conflict, I have to make a choice. This where bias can sneak in. Eventually, you have to decide on what is most likely the accurate account.

Fortunately, many aspects are pretty cut and dried.

Ahhh…I can finally flaunt my history degree!

“History” is the combination of Events, Chronology, and Historiography.

Events and Chronology are unchangeable, and therefore objective…an event(s) either happened, or it did not. And, in the case of events…they happened in an unchangeable chronology.

Historiography is the interpretation and explanation of the events and chronology, and is highly subjective…schools (trains of thought, not ivy covered walls) of history change over time, and interpretations may change as new evidence of events and chronology is uncovered.

So, since History is the sum of three elements (events, chronology, and historiography), and one element is subjective, it can be argued with relative assurance that History is, therefore, subjective.

Two other very interesting and important points are:

  1. History does NOT repeat itself. Events often seem similar, but under close scrutiny only the “what” and not the “why” are similar.

  2. There is no “revisionist history”, because to revise history would entail changing events, chronology, AND historiography. Because the events and chronology are unchanging, only one component (historiography) of history, not history in totality, is revised.

The school of history most non-historians subscribe to, is “Consensus”, which was prevalent in the Post-War (pre-Modernist) era. From a nostalgic, “everything used to be so nice” point of view, its understandable why non-historians get upset that history isn’t always presented that way today…but from a scholastic and academic view, Consensus History was as subjective as Post-Modernism, only in a different ideological direction.

One last parting shot…those who attempt to tie schools of history to a political ideology (Left/Right, Conservative/Liberal), are discrediting History, which is a very pure form of academics, in that it studied for the sake of studying only…the “if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes” is clap-trap, based on the fact that History (as explained above) does not repeat itself.

From one of my favorite movies ever:

“Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes.”

“History is bunk.” Henry Ford

Would the fact that mankind suffers from sin and the effects of original sin make History repeat itself, facts indicate it does, even though the particulars may change, eg. The difference between the types of wars, World War ll, and war with terrorists, still both are wars. For every child that is born he is born with the same fallen condition, thus the need for Baptism. Could it be said the Moral history of mankind repeats itself? Isn’t this objective?
Shouldn’t we distinguish the types of history, the changeable and unchangeable? What is objective history and what is subjective history?

I don’t believe the statement that “the Moral history of mankind repeats itself” due to mankind’s fallen condition is objective since it expresses a subjective moral and religious point of view.

Not meant as criticism, but this evaluation of the meaning of history strikes me as so professorial!

“Henry Ford is history.” John

If the moral history of mankind expresses a subjective moral and religious point of view than that view becomes relative, if relative than there is no absolute, then truth can be, and not be at the same time, depending on each point of view. Then one can never be sure. We share a common humanity and there are some things that are not changeable, they are objective. There are objective laws of human conduct, to act rationally is one of them, and what are these ethical and rational laws? They are based on what is objectively conducive to the well being of society. The law of love God, and love our neighbor are good ones. Love of neighbor is to do and wish him well, if hungry feed him, if ignorant teach him. And led by objective truth and logic, and Faith acknowledge God and obey Him for our own good. He gives us directions for living a good moral life. Without God there is no absolute, and the real needs of humanity are objective, not subjective. We find in human history eg. wars that never seem to end, we find hatred from the beginning of time, we find man’s inhumanity to man, we find the selfish quest for riches, and power to the detriment of others, and countless other evils stamped indelibly in human history, it all points to the need of a Savior, because mankind can’t save itself, and that’s and objective fact, not a subjective one.

I think that history and morality are a bad mix. A solid historian does not guess at the intentions of others or the morality of their actions. Morality is irrelevant to the facts.

But which Savior? “Aye, there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare said. And some religions, such as mine, do not believe in the need for a Savior in the same sense as Christianity does. Once you bring specific religious teachings and their interpretations into play, history becomes subjective.

We are not judging personal intentions, but the acts themselves. EG. The liquidation of 6,000,000 Jews by Hitler, not to mention what Stalin did to his people, and others. These are facts, and immoral actions committed against humanity by humans. Immoral because it was murder. And I recall, murder is against the fifth commandment. Even if the moral law was not revealed, a civil society could readily see that this does not in any way constitute the well being of society. Existence of the individual, singly and collectively constitutes the essential well-being of society, no individual, no society. Rational people are designed to act rationally, but this is not always the case, human nature is afflicted. Jesus God-man came to heal that affliction for those who accept Him, that’s the rub. Dachau in Germany , a Nazi concentration camp and an extermination center is an objective reality, yet in spite of this fact an Iranian leader, Almajinidad (spelling?) denied that the Holocaust ever happened.-do people act as rational humans? Give me a break!

Ad-extra: And if I told you that I know that evil spirits exist would you believe me, or would you say “I need a psychiatrist” right off the bat? Some would, but do you think I would deny my own experience in spite of what others think, would you, or anyone else?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.