Taking Text Seriously

Remarks on the Methodology of the History of Political Thought

in Contributions to the History of Concepts

Quentin Skinner's methodological project contains a fundamental imprecision that is rarely mentioned by the secondary literature: the assumption, present in several of his methodological texts, that a theory designed for the analysis of oral communication (speech act theory) can be unreservedly used for interpreting text. In this article I will use some of Paul Ricoeur's phenomenological insights on the difference between textual and oral communication in order to advance a systematic critique of Skinner's project and to suggest new methodological possibilities for the history of political thought and related disciplines. This procedure will also allow me to organize some of the criticism raised against Skinner's Collingwoodean approach since its inception.