Saturday, July 31, 2004

Historical Criticism

Historical Criticism. This is another reprint of a public domain source dealing with history. This one is from the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia.

From the site:

Historical criticism is the art of distinguishing the true from the false concerning facts of the past. It has for its object both the documents which have been handed down to us and the facts themselves. We may distinguish three kinds of historical sources: written documents, unwritten evidence; and tradition. As further means of reaching a knowledge of the facts there are three processes of indirect research, viz.: negative argument, conjecture, and a priori argument.

It may be said at once that the study of sources and the use of indirect processes will avail little for proper criticism if one is not guided chiefly by an ardent love of truth such as will prevent him from turning aside from the object in view through any prejudice, religious, national, or domestic, that might trouble his judgment. The rôle of the critic differs much from that of an advocate. He must, moreover, consider that he has to fulfil at once the duties of an examining magistrate and an expert juryman, for whom elementary probity, to say nothing of their oath, makes it a conscientious duty to decide only on the fullest possible knowledge of the details of the matter submitted to their examination, and in keeping with the conclusion which they have drawn from these details; guarding themselves at the same time against all personal feeling either of affection or of hatred respecting the litigants. But inexorable impartiality is not enough; the critic should also possess a fund of that natural logic known as common sense, which enables us to estimate correctly, neither more nor less, the value of a conclusion in strict keeping with given premises. If, moreover, the investigator be acute and shrewd, so that he discerns at a glance the elements of evidence offered by the various kinds of information before him, which elements often appear quite meaningless to the untrained observer, we may consider him thoroughly fitted for the task of critic. He must now proceed to familiarize himself with the historical method, i. e. with the rules of the art of historical criticism. In the remainder of this article we shall present a brief résumé of these rules apropos of the various kinds of documents and processes which the historian employs in determining the relative degree of certainty which attaches to the facts that engage his attention.

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