Having thus with regard to the supposed permanence of philosophical problems found the ’realist’ conception of philosophical history false at every point where I could think of testing it, I turned to another aspect of the same conception: namely the ’realists’ ’ distinction between the ’historical’ question ’what was So-and-so’s theory on such and such a matter ?’ and the ’philosophical’ question ’was he right?’
This distinction was soon condemned as fallacious. I will not here explain, since the reader can easily see it for himself, how it broke down in the light of the question ’how is the so-called philosophical issue to be settled ?’ and the answer that it could only be settled by what I was simultaneously discovering to be the sophistical methods of ’realist’ criticism. I will rather point out that the alleged distinction between the historical question and the philosophical must be false, because it presupposes the permanence of philosophical problems. If there were a permanent problem P, we could ask ’what did Kant , or Leibniz , or Berkeley , think about P?’ and if that question could be answered’we could then go on to ask’was Kant , or Leibniz , or Berkeley , right in what he thought about P ?’ But what is thought to be a permanent problem P is really a number of transitory problems p1 p2 p3. . . whose individual peculiarities are blurred by the historical myopia of the person who lumps them together under the one name P. It follows that we cannot fish the problem P out of the hyperuranian lucky-bag, hold it up, and say ’what did So-and-so think about this?’ We have to begin, as poor devils of historians begin, from the other end. We have to study documents and interpret them. We have to say ’here is a passage of Leibniz ; what is it about? what is the problem with which it deals?’ Perhaps we label that problem p14. Then comes the question ’Does Leibniz here deal with p14 rightly or wrongly ?’ The answer to this is not quite so simple as the ’realists’ think. If Leibniz when he wrote this passage was so confused in his mind as to make a complete mess of the job of solving his problem, he was bound at the same time to mix up his own tracks so completely that no reader could see quite clearly what his problem had been. For one and the same passage states his solution and serves as evidence of what the problem was. The fact that we can identify his problem is proof that he has solved it ; for we only know what the problem was by arguing back from the solution.