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Textual context in the history of political thought and intellectual history

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1191-1210
Number of pages20
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number8
Published17 Nov 2019

King's Authors


We can easily misread historical texts if we take ideas and passages out of their textual contexts. The resulting errors are widespread, possibly even more so than errors through reading ideas and passages out of their historical contexts. Yet the methodological literature stresses the latter and says little about the former. This paper thus theorises the idea of textual context, distinguishes three types of textual context, and asks how we uncover the right textual contexts. I distinguish four kinds of textual-context error, and offer practical tips for avoiding these errors. However, the beating heart of this paper is the history–philosophy debate: in contrast to the prevailing assumption that historical and philosophical analysis are fundamentally different, I show that a commitment to textual context, which should be entirely uncontroversial, also commits one to think philosophically.

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