Quentin Skinner

Belief, Truth and Interpretation


My lecture examines two claims frequently made by philosophers about the study of the history of philosophy, and frequently endorsed by historians as well. The first proposes that the appropriate subject-matter for historians of philosophy to consider is beliefs. The second suggests that it is important to ask whether or not the beliefs under investigation are or are not true, since true beliefs are taken to require different forms of interpretation and explanation from beliefs that are held to be irrational or false. The aim of the lecture is to challenge both these assumptions, and in the course of doing so to defend a different approach to the study of intellectual history, one in which the focus is on actions rather than beliefs.