Monday, October 19, 2015

Three Types of Historian

Some of my friends and students must be tired of hearing this: “We do philology because we have to. We do philosophy because we want to.” Those of us who love to do Buddhist philosophy of the past have no choice but to do Buddhist philology as well. Because, in my view, there can be no (textual) Wortphilologie without (contentual-contextual) Sachphilologie, and no Sachphilologie without Wortphilologie, philology must necessarily be an academic discipline that deals with both and one that seeks to gain a diachronic and synchronic views of the texts and ideas. As such philology is inextricably linked his history. A philologist is necessarily also a historian of ideas. But what kind of a historian are we talking about? This reminds me of the typology of historian proposed once by Edward Conze. According to him, there are three types of historian: scientific, humanistic, and transcendental. I quote (Conze 1967 = 2000: 28): “The first studies a butterfly after killing it and fixing it with a pin into a glass case, where it lies quite still and can leisurely be inspected from all angles. The second lets it fly in the sun, and looks wonderingly at its pretty ways. The third assures us that a man will know a butterfly only if he becomes one.” Using the idea of intellectual deconstruction (i.e. rigs pas gzhig pa) and physical destruction  (i.e. gnyen pos gzhig pa), I would like to propose that what a historian of ideas usually seeks to do is to pursue analytical dissection but not a physical one, and hence one actually does not have to kill the butterfly. Or, after having analytically dissected the object of study with one’s prajñā, one can, out of one’s karuṇā, assemble all the parts and put them back to its original form.

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