Part of the Modern Introductions to Philosophy book series (MIP)


A large part of the philosophical attraction of the present topic lies in the possibility, or the hope, of there being in history a sort of explanation not encountered elsewhere. Whatever may turn out to be the truth about this, however, it is as certain as anything can be that there must be more than one sort of explanation in history. The first thing that becomes apparent if one tries to pick out explanatory passages from history books is their great variety. Proponents of every view of historical explanation have managed to cite credible examples. It is, in the first place, by no means difficult to find explanations which can readily be represented as assigning causes or as bringing the event or state of affairs explained under a law or generalisation. At least as common are explanations in rational or purposive terms, or in terms of Popper’s logic of the situation, i.e. explanations in which a person’s action is accounted for as something which either really was, or was judged by him to be, necessary in order to achieve his aims or purposes or, which comes to much the same, as what would have been expected of a reasonable man who was or thought he was in a situation of a certain sort. If, instead of the law/rational classification, one thinks of explanations as dividing into economic, psychological, sociological, etc. categories, then again it will be easy to find examples of every type in history. Medical explanations, too, for instance in relation to Henry VIII’s leg or George III’s possible madness, are by no means unknown.


Moral Judgement History Book Historical Explanation Historical Writing Initial Condition Statement 
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© R. F. Atkinson 1978

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