Historical Explanations Always Involve Counterfactual History

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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Historical explanations are a form of counterfactual history. To offer an explanation of what happened, historians have to identify causes, and whenever they identify causes, they immediately conjure up a counterfactual history, a parallel world. No one doubts that there is a great deal of distance between science fiction novelists and the world’s great historians, but along an important dimension, they are playing the same game.

Historical Explanations Always Involve Counterfactual History

in Journal of the Philosophy of History

References

1

The best treatment is Jon ElsterExplaining Social Behavior (New York: Cambridge University Press2007).

2

See Jon ElsterLogic and Society (Chichester: Wiley1978); David Lewis On the Plurality of Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell 1986).

4

Jon ElsterLogic and Society176.

8

Philip Tetlock and Aaron BelkinCounterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press1996).

11

Robert FogelRailroads and American Economic Growth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press1964).

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