Montesquieu’s Attempt to Establish History as Science

Author: Przemysław Wewiór
Institution: University of Wroclaw
Year of publication: 2013
Source: Show
Pages: 54-65
DOI Address:
PDF: kie/99/kie9903.pdf

The essay deals with Montesquieu’s methodology of history. My crucial assumption is that Montesquieu intends to cultivate history as science. In the 18th century this ambition meant that he wanted to use the analytical method in the field of history. His works include many examples of the successful exploitation of analysis. Since the philosopher does not consider his methods, my aim will be to extract from his works the ideas that stand behind his historical investigations. In other words, I am going to answer how history can be practiced as science (in the Enlightenment sense of this term). First of all, I am going to explain why analysis was – and still is – so efficient in a realm of natural phenomena. My point will be that it indicated to early modern scientist how they should conduct their experiments. On the other hand, experiments give advantage to scientists due to the fact that they are able to construct and control their object. To put it differently: analysis and experiments are efficient because truth and action are convertible. Now, my crucial question is: ‘Are historians capable of gaining advantage over their objects as physicists are?’ Giambattista Vico, for example, agrees. According to him, researchers can comprehend historical events because history is man-made. Some parts of Montesquieu’s works indicate that he shares Vico’s assumptions. Hence, historians are able to scrutinize past factors, and they can perform thought experiments. Such experiments are means for validating and abolishing hypotheses by using counterfactuals.


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Giambattista Vico verum-factum principle counterfactuals thought experiments Montesquieu analysis methodology of history Enlightenment

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