11 January 2008

Not Esprit d'Escalier for a Blog

For a blog, it's a missed afterthought only if it's at least two days later...

To follow up to my post yesterday about the origin of the Septuagint, I wanted to offer some comments on the review of Wasserstein and Wasserstein, by Shawn W. J. Keough of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, which I mentioned. This review puzzled me, and I found it generally uninformative. As I said, I had become interested in the question of the origin of the Septuagint, and by coincidence this review showed up in my mailbox. Yet it helped me very little. To wit, Keough at one point writes the following:

Three writers figure in the development of the legend among Hellenistic Jews: Aristobulus, Philo and Josephus. The sketchy evidence from Aristobulus is useful to W&W only insofar as it establishes the relative priority of Ps. Aristeas (32). The evidence of Philo and Josephus, however, demonstrates the way the legend was molded and deployed to address the needs of new contexts. Philo wishes to extend the general sense of approval and admiration for the translation found in the Letter to a profound sense of divine inspiration, so that Jewish religion and scripture take on a new universal scope and relevance (38-39). W&W are careful to note that Philo's account of the legend does not, however, include certain miraculous elements often ascribed to it: Philo does not say "that the translators were deliberately separated, that they were all given the same texts to translate, and that they all produced literally identical versions" (44). Rather, W&W understand Philo to make the more modest claim that the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts of translation (45).
Yet I think a reviewer should choose a more precise phrase than "relative priority" . The Letter was doubtless prior in time, but was it the sole source for those other authors? Keough's talk of "the legend being molded for new contexts" might suggest that it is. But the Letter was not the only tradition or source of information available to Philo, who describes, for instance, in his Life of Moses a yearly celebration involving multitudes of different peoples (παμπληθεῖς ἕτεροι) which continued at least up to his own time (μέχρι νῦν) in the place where the translation is said to have been accomplished (the island of Pharos). It's unlikely that there could be such a celebration without those participating passing down an account of how the translation was accomplished, and yet we may safely presume that no mere letter would have given rise to such a celebration.

Here's another fudge in the review. The reviewer uses the phrase, "W&W are careful to note", which suggests that the reviewer agrees with the judgment that follows, viz. Philo's account of the legend does not... include certain miraculous elements often ascribed to it. And this is an obvious truth, because there are details of later accounts not found in Philo.

But then the reviewer adds that "Rather, W&W understand Philo to make the more modest claim that the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts of translation", and this is stated uncritically, as if the reviewer agrees with this judgment as well.

Yet what does this mean? What does it mean to say that "the translators all used the same correct words in the same contexts"? Does this mean that the translators conferred and came to an agreement about how to translate? That would hardly be worth mentioning, since any group translation must proceed in that way. But if it means that (according to Philo) the translators independently came up with translations that later were found to coincide and to be unimpeachable -- then this would hardly be less miraculous than what is reported in later stories. (Clearly, whether the translators were actually put in separate cells, as later accounts have it, makes little difference.)

In fact Philo's language suggests he believed there was a miraculous concurrence. I'll paste the relevant passage from the Life of Moses below and then give Thackeray's conservative translation. (By the way, note "they say" below, which suggests Philo's reliance on a tradition distinct from the Letter.)
καθάπερ ἐνθουσιῶντες προεφήτευον οὐκ ἄλλα
ἄλλοτε ἄλλας ἐφαρμόζοντα λέξεις; ὅπερ ἐπὶ ταύτης τῆς νομοθεσίας οὔ
φασι συμβῆναι, συνενεχθῆναι δ' εἰς ταὐτὸν κύρια κυρίοις ὀνόμασι, τὰ
... as men possessed, they produced not divers interpretations, but all alike used the same words and phrases, as though some invisible prompter whispered in the ears of each. And yet who does not know that every language, and Greek beyond all others, is rich in words and that one may be circumlocution and paraphrase clothe the same thought in divers forms, varying the style to fit the occasion? Yet this, they say, did not happen with these laws of ours; no, the appropriate technical words corresponded exactly with the technical words in the original, the Greek with the Chaldee, being admirably adapted to fit the subject-matter.

Now, here's a question that interests me also. I wonder if Keough, or Wasserstein, or Wasserstein, think that it's in principle even possible that a translation be inspired -- since it seems to me that this might make a difference in how one evaluates the historical evidence. At least, it would be interesting for an historian to offer a disjunctive judgment-- "If one assumes that it is not possible that the translators were miraculously inspired, then one would reasonably arrive at the following account of the origin of the legend ... ; but if one assumes that it is in principle possible, then one might think rather something like the following...".


J. K. Gayle said...

Fascinating question and points about the implications of history writing based on (non)belief in "inspiration of translation."

I've often wondered whether religious historians who do believe in inspired texts really (care to) know how much translation makes them up. Most all of the Greek of the gospels of Jesus, for instance, are translation of his Hebrew Aramaic.

Anonymous said...

Presumably most Christians who believe in inspired texts also believe that scripture is equally accessible to all as a means of salvation, since this is itself an assertion of scripture which is not itself vitiated by translation. The many phrases in Romans like "Ioudaiwi te prwton kai Hellhni" (1:16), for example, can't plausibly be translated in a way that doesn't carry this implication. Presumably the inspired content of scripture is supposed to be exactly the content relevant to salvation. It follows that inspired content cannot be 'lost in (conscientious) translation'. But this feature of inspired content is if anything less strange than a feature which is itself very familiar and uncontroversial: scriptural narratives presented as true but which are strictly inconsistent in certain points of fact may be deemed to convey (more or less) the same inspired content, as having the same relevance to salvation -- different accounts of Jesus' feeding of the multitude in different gospels, for example. The idea here would be that the facts that are discrepantly rendered are not relevant to salvation (eg how many thousands were fed); something analogous would go for the translation case.

So I don't think it's really a problem.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I just can't follow Darius' line of thought. His comments seem to imply that mistranslation is impossible. Since I doubt that any intelligent person could believe such an absurd thing, it seems more likely that I've simply misunderstood him.

As for Mr. Gayle's comment, I think it's fair to say that anyone who really deserves the title 'historian' is aware when some text that we have is a translation. All serious historians of Christianity, for instance, are aware that Jesus almost certainly taught in Aramaic rather than Greek. As far as 'inspiration' is concerned, though, the vast majority of the New Testament was composed in Greek. Since inspiration is supposed to apply at least to the initial composition of the work and not simply to whatever Jesus said, then presumably issues of translation from Aramaic to Greek are no more important than, say, the discrepancies between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.

Anonymous said...


I wonder to what extent historians who believe that inspiration is possible or even actual in particular cases might reasonably maintain that such beliefs play no part in their task as historians. Claims about inspiration would be very difficult to verify even if we assume that inspiration is possible. More pressingly, the concept of inspiration is itself so unclear that it is of dubious explanatory value, and it is tough to say what the conditions of its application would be. If inspiration is miraculous, and miracles are things that cannot be fully accounted for by means of natural explanations, then it would seem that the best any historian could do would be to rule out all candidates for natural explanation. It might also seem that once an historian is willing to appeal to inspiration as an explanatory concept, there would be no compelling reason to reject any sort of explanation whatsoever so long as it is consistent with the data (much like young-earth creationists can invoke 'Satanic deception' or 'God testing our faith' as explanations of the same phenomena that natural scientists use to determine the age of the earth). The historian who believes in divine inspiration might maintain that the concept can play no useful role in historical explanation, and therefore eschew the concept when he does history.

Of course, an historian with this view of his activity would be committed to some degree of anti-realism about the discipline of history. Then again, very many historians take a somewhat anti-realist view of their discipline, so the historian who believes in divine inspiration but eschews the concept when doing history would not be too unusual. For what it's worth, I think that John Meier (theology at Notre Dame) and Eamon Duffy (history, Cambridge) would both take a view very much like the one I have described, insofar as both of them believe in divine inspiration and yet do not employ the concept in their historical writing.

Historians themselves have interesting and somewhat bewildering debates about whether historians discover truths about history. If you haven't, you might read Keith Jenkins' Re-thinking History; it's a short but plain statement of a view that many historians share.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 20.52: I apologise if I was unclear. I did not mean to imply that mistranslation was impossible. When Mr Gayle wrote "I've often wondered whether religious historians who do believe in inspired texts really (care to) know how much translation makes them up," I took him (perhaps wrongly) to be suggesting that translation (eg of Jesus' Aramaic words into NT Greek, or of Paul's Greek or Isaiah's Hebrew into English) presented a problem for the idea of divine inspiration of scripture. I further supposed (again, perhaps wrongly) that the problem in question was that what was inspired about the original words may not survive the process of translation -- as, eg, the poetic content of a text usually does not. My point was that anyone who takes herself to have reason to believe in the inspiration of scripture in the first place will thereby take herself to have reason to believe that the inspired content of scripture (the content relevant to salvation) will *not* be like its poetic aspects, in that it will be preserved in any accurate translation. To suppose otherwise would be to accept the possibility that some inspired content, like poetic content, would be available only to (eg) speakers of Hebrew; this would in turn contradict the doctrine, implied in many places in scripture itself, that scripture qua instrument of salvation is accessible to all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 21.35: On the standard construal of Christian belief, it will not be possible to prove that no natural explanation of the content of scripture could be adequate. This would leave no room for faith, which Paul teaches is a supreme virtue. Conversely, it would obviously be outrageous for an historian to ask secular colleagues to take any of his claims on faith in this sense. A believing historian will confine herself to what can be established by natural means when doing academic history. I have no idea why such a person "would be committed to some degree of anti-realism about the discipline of history."

Anonymous said...

Darius: You seem to confuse faith itself with a belief that no natural explanation of some phenomenon is possible. Even if we could argue that no satisfactory natural explanation is available for some particular phenomenon, we would not thereby be saying anything about possible supernatural causes for the phenomenon. So, even if faith were just propositional belief (which it is not, at least not on several of the 'standard construalS' of Christian belief), it is by no means equivalent to the belief that no natural explanation is available for some phenomenon. So I think you're just not getting anywhere here.

Regardless of whatever it would be ridiculous to expect secular colleagues to do or think, there are interesting methodological and philosophical questions about the practice of history itself that arise once we consider the case of a person who believes that something is true but does not believe that historical inquiry can even address its truth in principle. Those questions, and not 'the standard construal of Christian belief,' are what I'm curious about.

But alas, Michael seems to have given up on this thread.

Anonymous said...

I was discounting as incredible the possibility that there is no natural explanation for the content of scripture but that the true explanation has nothing to do with the truth of Christianity.

I nowhere said or implied that faith is just propositional belief. When I said "this would leave no room for faith," I meant faith in the spiritual truth of scripture. While this is not the whole of faith, Paul certainly thought it a necessary component of it.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear friends,

I haven't given up on the thread but have been simply reading and thinking about the comments.

When I raised the question of whether an historian admits the possibility of inspiration, I was thinking of inspiration insofar as it is something miraculous -- and so my question becomes whether an historian's admitting, or denying, the possibility of miracles might affect what he is prepared to accept as the best explanation of historical data.

My thought was that this would indeed make a difference as regards history of the origin of the Septuagint. Suppose someone holds either (i) a Humean view, that it is not reasonable to suppose that miracles (including miraculous inspirations) have occurred; or (ii) that miracles can and have occurred, but that criteria such as Newman proposes (in his Essays on Miracles) should be used to distinguish, antecedently, purported fables from reports of miracles that need to be taken seriously-- and that when you apply these criteria to the Septuagint story you are strongly inclined to think the claim of exact coincidence in translation a fable.

If you take either of these positions, then you have to discount the possibility that the explanation for the claim that the Septuagint was inspired, was that there actually was an exact coincidence of indendently written translations (of some portion of the Pentateuch at least).

But the Humean and Newmanian would after this point diverge. The Newmanian does not hold that it is across-the-board unreasonable to accept reports of miracles, so he is free to conclude that pious ancient authors who accepted the story of a miraculous translation were simply applying incorrect criteria for distinguishing the properly miraculous from the fabulous.

But the Humean, since he holds that is is unreasonable to accept reports of miracles (and that this is always irrational and, even, as Hume says, 'subversive' of reasonability), must impute some kind of irrationality, in a strong sense, to those very same pious ancient authors.

Now -- of course I was relying only on a brief review -- the latter is the approach that I was afraid Wasserstein and Wasserstein were taking. To me it seemed they were using an author's assent to the miraculousness of the Septuagint's origin as a sign of the author's 'interest', or polemical purposes, in writing as he did about it. The novelty of their thesis is that they downplayed Philo's language suggesting a miracle in order to impute this pious exaggeration to later rabbinical authorities.

-- That's the sort of issue I had in mind.--

As much as I admire Eamon Duffy, I don't entirely know what to think of Anonymous' idea that an historian might prescind from making judgments about miracles, for or against, as a matter of methodology in doing history.

This seems to me for the most part perfectly appropriate when writing secular history, or even events insofar as they lead to and are circumstanced by things that certainly cannot be held to involve anything miraculous or religious -- e.g. one could give an account of Joan of Arc's success in battle, and her trial and what she claimed, and even say that all available explanations of some events seem to fall short, without even raising the question of whether the best explanation of what happened, all things considered, is that she really was a saint, and that she received miraculous help, etc.

But two caveats:

(1) I wonder how far this can be carried, because it seems that underlying most claims that a miracle occurred (a claim which posits a supernatural explanation) is a claim that something untoward has occurred-- and presumably an historian cannot prescind from making a judgment about the latter. For instance, it is one thing to say that (a) the Septuagint was inspired; another to say that (b) various scholars produced, independently, translations of substantial lengths of difficult texts which were unimpeachable and turned out to correspond exactly. The latter purports to be a fact of history, on which presumably any historian has to take a position.

(ii) There is a difference, between the Humean and the Newmanian (or the Humean and Duffy) as to whether one can rest satisfied with the conclusion that 'no good explanation for this is forthcoming'. The Humean will generally prefer even a weak or poor explanation over this; indeed, the Humean it seems must hazard an explanation-- since in his conceptual scheme he has no place-holder for 'miraculous intervention.' -- But then it seems that my earlier suspicion holds true, viz. that it would be good for an historian to disclose where he stands (philosophically and methodologically) on these matters, since this must make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I can clarify my thoughts further. My hypothetical historian would not simply be prescinding from judgment about miracles when writing secular history. Not, at least, if we understand 'writing secular history' as writing history in a disciplinary context unfavorable to explanations that employ religious, theological, or supernatural concepts. Rather, my hypothetical historian would hold that those concepts have no proper role to play in history conceived as a rational discipline at all. On this view, one does not prescind from explicit judgments; one holds that 'the miraculous' is not a legitimate explanatory concept for rational inquiry into history.

To see how someone who believes in miracles could hold this view, simply consider one view that someone might take on miracles. A paradigmatic miracle, on this view, is an event that seems to violate 'the laws of nature' (I am not sure that miracles must seem to violate laws of nature, but let us say so exempli gratia). Miracles are indeed caused by God, but so too is everything else in the world in one sense or another. The difference with a miracle is that God is its sole cause. When we talk about God as a cause, however, we are doing something rather different than when we ordinarily talk about things as causes. Unlike the ordinary subjects of our talk about causes, God is a transcendent being and not any particular causal agent in the world. So identifying God as the sole cause of something is not like identifying Pakaluk as the sole cause of my wine glass being kicked over, because in that case I identify a particular, finite causal agent. In the case of miracles, however, I do not identify any particular finite causal agent, but rather ascribe the event solely to a transcendent and infinite agent whose mode of causation must be, to say the least, rather different from the mode of any particular, finite, immanent being's. In other words, identifying God as the sole cause of an event is very much like identifying nothing as its cause. Now, the absence of any cause in the world might not be the only or even the most important criterion for identifying an event as miraculous -- it may be that the meaning of the event is what is central. In any case, it remains that appealing to God as the sole cause for some event is very much like denying that it has any cause. Outside of all faith that one may have in any particular revelation, we will have very little reason to ascribe any one event to God's agency more than any other, and we will certainly have little basis for talking about what the purpose of such an event might be. Since revelation is a precondition for any appeal to the miraculous to do much work beyond denying that no natural cause accounts for some event, the historian might claim that such appeals have no place in rational historical inquiry.

Of course, I have been using the word 'rational' here to mean 'not presupposing any revelatory data.' I do not mean to say that any appeal to the concept of the miraculous must be irrational, empty, useless, ignorant, or whatever. Rather, it seems to me that appeals to the miraculous outside of any faith in revealed religion contribute nothing over and above the claim that an event cannot be adequately explained in terms of natural causation. Yet this is, contra Darius, not the same thing as believing that God is rightly identified as its cause. A committed atheist can consistently maintain that there is no natural explanation available for some event without believing that it has any supernatural explanation, let alone the one favored by Christians.

Or so, it seems, an historian might hold.

Anonymous said...

"Yet [the claim that an event cannot be adequately explained in terms of natural causation] is, contra Darius, not the same thing as believing that God is rightly identified as its cause."

I didn't say that these were the same thing. I thought I had made this clear in my comment at 10.00. I was talking specifically about the availability or otherwise of natural explanations of the content of Christian scripture as opposed to other standard explananda. It seems that the only options on the table here are either a natural explanation or divine inspiration. (Unless *nothing* really has a natural explanation, as neoplatonists and occasionalists seem to hold -- but then we have lost the contrast. The only other option would seem to be some kind of malin génie; but this is no more plausible here than in its Cartesian context.) And if Christian scripture is divinely inspired, then surely Christianity is true. This is why I said that a proof that scripture had no natural explanation would leave no room for faith. Infidelity is not a form of ignorance, and there can be no faith where there is no temptation to disbelieve.

To repeat: I realise, and never denied, the obvious fact that that in general an event's lacking a natural explanation is not the same thing as, and does not entail, its being caused by God.

European observer said...

What a lovely blog! A fascinating find, and discussion. I think Michael Pakaluk is right that it’s down to methodology. Aberrant results are observed in labs daily and may be accounted for in several ways: It’s always possible to drop some auxiliary hypothesis and put results down to, say, a faulty instrument reading. It’s also possible to explain such results by reference to supernatural causation or the miraculous but such accounts are unlikely to impress the school teacher: They just don’t count as scientific explanations.

I think historians qua historians are bound to deny that explanations involving miracles are historical explanations, irrespective of any personal commitment to a religious or metaphysical point of view. Following Schliemann’s excavations evidence became available that Homer told of a war that really took place but nobody seems to have tried to explain consequently, say, Cassandra’s prophetic powers: This is no problem for historians, including neo-pagan ones.

Anonymous said...

When I attribute nonsense to you, Darius, it's only to bring out the absurd consequences of what you've said. My difference with you is simple: the absence of an explanation does not demand that we accept any explanation at all. If I conclude that no explanation offered so far for some particular phenomenon is acceptable, I am not thereby committed to anything other than that denial. The same goes if I maintain that no natural explanation would, in principle, be satisfactory. That denial would not commit me to saying that there must be a supernatural explanation; I may conclude that there just isn't one. Even this view would not commit me to saying that the phenomenon has no cause at all, but simply that it cannot be explained. Unless you are willing to say that reality is co-extensive with what is in principle amenable to rational explanation (which would seem to me to be a fairly rash thing to maintain a priori) and that the unavailability of any natural explanation compels us to accept some supernatural explanation, then what you've been saying so far is just mistaken. As far as I can tell, you've got to choose between accepting dubious principles or abandoning the view you've been putting forth so far.

To bring this back around to its original point, you are, in my view, flat out mistaken to say that there would be no room for 'faith' (whatever that turns out to be, exactly) if it were possible to prove that no natural explanation for a phenomenon were available or even in principle possible. The act of faith goes beyond the mere rejection of any possible natural explanation. All one gets out of the rejection is an admission of ignorance.

That said, I think we're all agreed that it cannot be shown that no natural explanation could account for the contents of allegedly inspired texts. I have been approaching this problem, however, as a general problem about how appeals to the miraculous might or might not fit into rational explanatory schemes. So far, you've done nothing to convince me that a theist (Christian or otherwise) should reject on religious grounds the scheme that I've proposed.

Anonymous said...

(Michael: I apologise for going on with this, since this is not the sort of issue you had in mind, but I am still being misrepresented.)

Anonymous at 00.10:

“the absence of an explanation does not demand that we accept any explanation at all.”

For the third time, I was not making any claim about what we may conclude in general from our inability to explain something. I was talking specifically about what would follow if we came to know that, although phenomena in the world around us were generally susceptible of natural explanation, there could be no natural explanation of the content of scripture.

You maintain that we could not infer in that case that scripture is divinely inspired, on the grounds that (i) there may be some other supernatural explanation or (ii) there may simply be no explanation at all.

Taking (ii) first. You wrote: “Unless you are willing to say that reality is co-extensive with what is in principle amenable to rational explanation (which would seem to me to be a fairly rash thing to maintain a priori) and that the unavailability of any natural explanation compels us to accept some supernatural explanation, then what you've been saying so far is just mistaken. As far as I can tell, you've got to choose between accepting dubious principles or abandoning the view you've been putting forth so far.”

Suppose that it is “fairly rash” or “dubious” to maintain that everything is in principle amenable to rational explanation. The first thing to say is that that would be a very long way from its being “absurd” or “nonsense,” as you maintained in the first sentence of your comment. But is it even rash and dubious? The possibility of in-principle-inexplicable facts is not itself that obvious. If it were, it would in turn be inexplicable that very many philosophers, including Anaximander, Descartes and (most explicitly) Leibniz have taken something like the principle of sufficient reason to be an unargued and unarguable first principle.

“Even this view would not commit me to saying that the phenomenon has no cause at all, but simply that it cannot be explained.”

If a phenomenon has a cause, presumably it has an explanation, sc that given by citing its cause.

Suppose we grant the assumption, rash or dubious as it may be, that perceptible phenomena in the world around us all have causes, and therefore explanations. Then if we did know that the content of scripture could not in principle be explained in natural terms, it would after all follow that the true explanation is supernatural.

Turning to (i): if we are rash enough to suppose that phenomena in the world around us are generally susceptible of natural explanation, so that this feature of scripture would make it exceptional, what follows? Here I would draw your attention to the fact that it is essential to scripture – part of what constitutes it as scripture – that it proclaims its own supernatural origin in divine inspiration. It seems to me that our knowledge that scripture, exceptionally among phenomena in the world around us, is not susceptible of a natural explanation, would constitute very strong evidence in favour of taking scripture’s self-description at face value. In the case of Christian scripture, this would entail the truth of Christianity. I maintain that this would leave no room for faith. (Your putting the word “faith” in quotation marks and appending the parenthesis “whatever that turns out to be, exactly” seem designed to imply that the concept of faith is obscure, but you nowhere indicate what is obscure about it.)

Michael Pakaluk said...

I think I'll bring comments to and end here, but many thanks to everyone for the discussion.

Here's a final question for Anonymous (feel free to write to me if you'd like to continue the discussion). I wonder whether you think an historian might appropriately offer 'moral' explanations of history. Consider for instance the American Civil War. Jefferson wrote in his time that he trembled to think of the consequences of slavery for the country, since (he considered) God is just. Lincoln, as is well known, in his Second Inaugural ascribed the sufferings of the war to providential punishment. Now may an historian, in giving a narrative of the war, appropriately concur in Lincoln's judgment? (I don't mean concur in the sense of stating baldly that the Civil War should be interpreted as, in part, divine punishment for injustice. I mean rather that this will color and inform how he selects and emphasizes things in his narrative--without his ever needing to say anything directly--as it seems to me almost inevitably happens in some form or other when someone writes history.)

You perhaps see the difficulty. If an historian may appropriately adopt a moral explanation (too) of phenomena, why not, when this seems reasonable or compelling (and we may dispute whether this is ever so, but for now the point of principle is under consideration), also a 'religious' interpretation?

I am sketching an argument along the lines of Butler in his Analogy and Newman in his Essay on Miracles-- viz. that the distinction between the moral and the non-moral already in the domain of what one might want to call the secular or natural intimates the positioning of these latter in some larger context.

Not that 'revelation' would need to be present, either, as an interpretative or explanatory key-- as you suggest. Even though Lincoln does quote scripture in his Second Inaugural, one needn't do so to accept his interpretation of the war.

Of course I admit that it would not be unreasonable, for certain purposes, to restrict historical explanation and limit historical narratives in certain ways. I agree that someone might reasonably say: "As professional historian I do not speculate on whether the Civil War was the working out of divine justice."

But then I would wish to insist that such a person should nonetheless be prepared to take a position, as an educated and intelligent person, as to whether the Civil War was that. And then it follows that this "viewpoint of a professional historian", whatever its usefulness of definite purposes, is something that ought to regarded as artificially limited and imperfect, because what we want to know is the truth about history all things considered. (And then this leads to considerations about the proper place of a discipline so limited in the community of scholars which is the university -- about which Newman also has something to say.)

Or at least that's how I tend to think about these things.