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Varieties and Vagaries of Historical Explanation

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

For the better part of the 20th century, expositions of issues regarding historical explanation followed a predictable format, one that took as given the nonequivalence of explanations in history and philosophical models of scientific explanation. Ironically, at the present time, the philosophical point of note concerns how the notion of science has itself changed. Debates about explanation in turn need to adapt to this. This prompts the question of whether anything now still makes plausible the thought that history must make some forced choice with regard to the type of science it is and an associated explanatory form. The discussion that follows sketches the alternative forms of explanation between which historians were to pick, and indicates why each proves unsatisfactory. Examination of these issues allows identification of a conception of historical explanation that does not require the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that engender previous dichotomous characterizations.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University of California-Santa Cruz;, Email:


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