“Wie es eigentlich gewesen” (what really happened), is an axiom for historians coined by Leopold von Ranke (1795 – 1886), one of the main representatives of historicism, who, together with Johann Gustav Droysen, is considered as founding father of modern history study. With his quotes, such as this one, it can be perceived almost all the basic problems of the study of history.
There is a lot of quarrel about this quote and it is in itself a study apart from which I do not want to go into, but the best standing point of view about seem to me, and I quote from Jeffrey Burton Russel, author of a book “The Devil – Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity”, in its preface, which it is:
“The historical evidence can never be clear enough for us to know what really happened (Wie es eigentlich gewesen), but the evidence as to what people believed to have happened is relatively clear. The concept – what people believed to have happened – is more important that what really did happen, because people act upon what they believed to be true”
About the dispute between the possibility of objective truth and what is humanly possible to achieve, discussing evil and the Devil, which, as he says, may never be resolved, he points out another possibility, emphasizing understanding above a metaphysical truth, which I quote:
“Understanding is not an accretion of external information but an assimilation or integration of knowledge into your experience as a human being. Know thyself – for if thou knowest not thyself, thou cans not know any thing. The Devil is understood, and ultimately confronted and defeated, as he is integrated into our experience as individuals.”
“Certainty cannot in this life be obtained on any level beyond the tautological.* But we can obtain knowledge, if knowledge is perceived as integration and understanding, by means of a variety of angles of vision or thought structures. Each thought structure, or truth system, is an instrument through which the world can be understood and integrated. All truth systems are precarious, subject to judgment, change, or rejection. Perceptions of reality are multiple, and truth systems are multiple. Multiplicity produces a view of the world that is rich and broad.
This attitude toward truth means the rejection of all reductionism. There is not one system, but many. No one truth system can exhaust knowledge of a phenomenon. In the experience of humanity, a number of systems have laid claim to universality. All such claims, including the most current, scientism, are specious. No system is absolute Indeed every system develops and changes in time, as has recently been shown for science by Thomas Kuhn, Stephen Toulmin and Jude Goodfield. Among the systems that exist today are science, myth, poetry, mathematics and history. They are multiple realities, subuniverses. To shutter oneself up in any of them is to blind oneself to the disturbing but beautifully complex riot of reality. And to the question which truth system is “best”, there is really no answer, unless it is that the best is the one most open and inclusive of most options.”
Obviously, as a historian, he packs it all up under the historical…
Tautological: Redundant or true by virtue of its logical form alone
Scientism: An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation
Specious: Having a false look of truth or genuineness