Conversely, an historian may take the position that every period of history is its own separate context despite the similar vein of human nature which flows through it. In this case, the latter will be found to be most valid, by examining how the perception of great ideas can be distorted by both the author's and audience's biases, as well as the language of the time period.
As Andrew Levine writes, "[p]hilosophers, like everyone else, are creatures of their time and place. It can be misleading, therefore, to ignore the context in which philosophical positions arise."1 As proof that philosophers at the very least run the risk of being influenced by their political contexts, consider the works of Hobbes. He rewrote his political philosophy three times, changing his views in response to political events.2 In order to analyze his ideas, one should also be aware of these events, in order to know exactly what factors dominated the bias of Hobbes at the time of each writing. Viewing his ideas out of context may render them, and the audience's interpretation, as illogical as a fish out of water.
One reason to study an idea in its context is to better understand what was going on in the thinker's mind to influence his writings. Because, by idea, we don't mean fact, we mean a notion created in the mind of a person. A person's mind is greatly influenced and conditioned by the social, historical, and political context in which he lives. Therefore, the audience has his own historical viewpoint through which he will inevitably view and contextualize any idea.3 This would seem to imply that it is impossible to view any idea in isolation from any context. Is it better to view an idea in its original context, or through your own context Skinner argues that the latter can have dire consequences for a historical interpretation. If the audience applies his own context to an idea, he may interpret its meaning based on his own expectations, completely missing the author's actual intent.
What if there exist "natural laws" whose contexts are universal Howard Warrender defines natural law as "a body of prescriptive rules concerning human conduct, capable of being discovered by all men of right reason, applicable to all men (regardless of race, nation, religion, historical period, etc.) and superior to positive law of individual states."4 In short, a natural law is both universal, and inherent. Warrender is not alone in his concern that the focus has shifted towards studying government in context, leaving the question of the "right way" unstudied.5 Is there a universal truth, or natural law, that applies in any context Assuming that such universal ideas do exist, and can be recorded, can their record be viewed in isolation from its context and still retain any meaning
One great thinker, Thomas Jefferson, believes not. He believes that essentially, any constitution expires after one generation because it no longer reflects the wishes and beliefs of the living, but rather those of the dead.6 In other words, the ideas of the previous generation, when forced upon the next generation, are being taken out of the historical context in which they were founded.
Even if there can exist some universally pure idea, language is not the material out of which objective reality is made, and thus, even if some great mind in history had been able to glimpse some truth, before it reached the page it