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The Topography of Historical Contingency

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Abstract Starting with Ben-Menahem’s definition of historical contingency as sensitivity to variations in initial conditions, we suggest that historical events and processes can be thought of as forming a complex landscape of contingency and necessity. We suggest three different ways of extending and elaborating Ben-Menahem’s concepts: (1) By supplementing them with a notion of historical disturbance; (2) by pointing out that contingency and necessity are subject to scaling effects; (3) by showing how degrees of contingency/necessity can change over time. We also argue that further development of Sterelny’s notion of conditional inevitability leads to our conclusion that the topography of historical contingency is something that can change over time.

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