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Objectivity Is Not Neutrality

Objectivity Is Not Neutrality

Explanatory Schemes in History

In Objectivity Is Not Neutrality, Thomas L. Haskell argues for a moderate historicism that acknowledges the force of perspective and reaffirms the pluralistic practices of a liberal democratic society—even while upholding time-honored distinctions between fact and fiction, scholarship and propaganda, right and might. Haskell addresses questions that will interest philosophers and literary theorists no less than historians, exploring topics ranging from the productivity of slave labor to the cultural concomitants of capitalism, from John Stuart Mill's youthful "mental crisis" to the cognitive preconditions that set the stage for antislavery and other humanitarian reforms after 1750. He traces the surprisingly short history of the word responsibility, which turns out to be no older than the United States. He examines the reasons for the rising authority of professional experts in nineteenth-century America. And he wonders whether the epistemological radicalism of recent years leaves us with any adequate basis for justifying human rights—rights of academic freedom, for example, or the right not to be tortured.

Written by a thoughtful critic of the historical profession, Objectivity Is Not Neutrality calls upon historians to think deeply about the nature of historical explanation and to acknowledge more fully than ever before the theoretical dimension of their work.