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Darwin-L Message Log 2:155 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<2:155>From GGALE@VAX1.UMKC.EDU  Fri Oct 29 14:50:45 1993

Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1993 14:54:09 -0500 (CDT)
From: GGALE@VAX1.UMKC.EDU
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 54
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

Someone(s) asked about the differences between 'scientific' and 'popular'
explanations. A-hem. We just started precisely that topic in my Phil of
Hist seminar this morning. So I should be primed to say something rich
and informative about the distinction. I am: there's no way, ultimately
to make the clean divide. Indeed, the whole topic of "explanation" has been
a major issue--perhaps THE major issue--since the mid-40s. [and Meyerson's
famous _Identity and Reality_ '08, inaugurated the discussion...] The
positivist's idea that ALL legitimate explanation was covering-law type
[universal "all" statement, followed by a particular instance-statement],
crashed and burned in the immediate post-Kuhnian conflagration.

The best way to make a distinction between popular and scientific is to
note, first, that all explanations are applications of a theory. Hence,
to distinguish explanation-types, distinguish the theory-types in which
they are embedded. Ergo and all that: scientific explanations are those
which are embedded in scientific theories.

Hoo-boy, NOW all we've got to do is distinguish scientific from popular
theories. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning!

Some historians think that there is a type of explanation which occurs
solely in historical contexts, roughly, it's the narrative. Joyner and
Rescher, in an early but influential article, argue that, as goes
history, so goes historical science(s) [and vice versa].
On this topic, we need look no further than our Glorious Leader of the List.
I retire the field in his favor.

BTW, not all popular theories need utilize non-natural objects, properties,
and interactions. Which means that not all popular explanations occur--or
are allowed to occur--in supermarket weeklies. Folk psychology, the
psychology we all believe in our hearts, is certainly a popular theory,
and, for many of us, I would suppose, relatively naturalistic.
Enough. Happy Halloween to those of you who admit such things.
g

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