Discuss the roles of language and reason in history
History is often considered as a synonym for truth and certainty. But history is such an area of knowledge that poses a number of deterrents in our quest for knowledge as the knowers cannot discover the past forthwith. This so called remembering the past is no easy nut-it is a complex web rendered difficult to disentangle given that the historical event takes place in the past; it is gone and irrecoverable!. Thus to write a history a historian has to resort to his reason, and obviously the said historian will write the historical accounts in his native language only. Thus language and reason stand as pillars for creating the foundations of history. Reasoning is closely connected with emotion, sense perception and language. In fact language is at the very core of reasoning. Language is a vast unmapped territory fascinating our intelligence and casting spells on our reason. According to “Max Mueller, there can be no language without reason, and no reason without language”2. Through this essay I would like to elucidate the roles of language and reason in history. My essay will also inquire into if language and reason as ways of knowing can pervert a historical account from the path of truth?
If a historian endeavours to explore the past, his step surely is to find out all the possible facts. Unless the historian makes an exact sense of the data, it is all absurd, as we know that the fact won’t speak for themselves. We must remember that the historian is an individual, not impregnable to bias, prejudice and discrimination. His history will be dependent on his particular interests, which are in turn, partially based on his culture. It is here where the crux of the problem lies. Like a geologists the historian too has to find the weak fossils print buried deep inside the earth. For example we get a number of baffling accounts behind the death of Alexander the Great. Different historians have written their accounts in different languages. Some opine that he died of malaria; others claim that he died of poisoning while many are of the view that he was assassinated at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon. Thus the historian has to be selective and he selects on the basis of his own paradigms. It is on these grounds that history is called an act of creation. And it is of critical importance to understand, in general terms, the basis on which any selection is made, and analyzed by the historian using his language and reason. Many historians wield their imaginative thinking or reason to write history but “is not memory fallible, evidence ambiguous and prejudice common3”? According to historian Barbara Tuchman, “Each man is a package of variables impossible to duplicate. His birth, his parents, his siblings, and the variables inherent in all of these, make up that mysterious compendium, personality-which then combines with another set of variables: country, climate, time and historical circumstance.” 4