Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

History as Meaning: A Humean Theory of Knowledge

Dr Boris DeWiel.

A proper theory of knowledge should be able to explain itself, but this creates a self-referential problem. Every analysis of ideas is itself a set of ideas and every attempt to explain our worldview is itself part of that worldview. There is no way to step outside of our own ideas in order to look down upon them from an objective, Archimedean or God's-eye perspective. Hume's theory that knowledge is customary allows us to find a way out of the self-referential problem. The key to this theory is that at no time do we attempt to step outside of our own conceptual framework to a mythical Archimedean or God's eye perspective. Instead, a Humean method based on the diachronic tracing of the history of ideas allows us to explore the meaning of our ideas from within. Rather than standing outside of our own conceptual scheme, we trace its incremental development from inside by tracing the traditions of thought to which we belong. We stay within the horizons of our own worldview but extend them historically to observe the development of that worldview. Our paradigm may shift but those changes must be observed from within. Thus the methodology of the diachronic history of ideas can provide the theoretical foundations of a post-Humean theory of knowledge that avoids the foundationalist problems of alternative approaches.


Dr Boris DeWiel  (Canada)
Assistant Professor
Political Science Program
University of Northern British Columbia

  • History of Ideas
  • Theory of Knowledge
Person as Subject
  • Hume, David

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)