John Seldon was one of the earliest English political philosophers. A recent journal article discussing his contribution to American law and culture points out how well he articulated the importance of studying history in great detail.

Selden responds to the claims of universal reason by arguing for a position that can be called historical empiricism. On this view, our reasoning in political and legal matters should be based upon inherited national tradition. This permits the statesman or jurist to overcome the small stock of observation and experience that individuals are able to accumulate during their own lifetimes (“that kind of ignorant infancy, which our short lives alone allow us”) and to take advantage of “the many ages of former experience and observation,” which permit us to “accumulate years to us, as if we had lived even from the beginning of time.” In other words, by consulting the accumulated experience of the past, we overcome the inherent weakness of individual judgement, bringing to bear the many lifetimes of observation by our forebears, who wrestled with similar questions under diverse conditions (latter emphasis added).

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