What Should We Require from an Account of Explanation in Historiography?

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Dr. Veli Virmajoki Postdoctoral Researcher, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku Turku Finland

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In this paper, I explicate desiderata for accounts of explanation in historiography. I argue that a fully developed account of explanation in historiography must explicate many explanation-related notions in order to be satisfactory. In particular, it is not enough that an account defines the basic structure of explanation. In addition, the account of explanation must be able to explicate notions such as minimal explanation, complete explanation, historiographical explanation, explanatory depth, explanatory competition, and explanatory goal. Moreover, the account should also tell how explananda can be chosen in a motivated way. Furthermore, the account should be able to clarify notions that are closely connected with explanation such as historical contingency. Finally, it is important that the account is able to recognize when explanation-related notions and issues are so closely intertwined that we are in danger of not seeing the differences between them. In other words, I argue that a satisfactory account of explanation in historiography must have the power to explicate central explanation-related notions and to clarify discussions where the differences between the notions are obscure. In order to explicate these desiderata, I formulate a (version of the) counterfactual account of explanation and show how that account is able to explicate explanation-related notions and clarify issues that are connected with historiographical explanations. The success of the counterfactual account suggests that historiographical explanations do not differ fundamentally from explanations in many other fields.

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