2004年09月30日

The Poverty of Historicism.

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This is the last post in the series on The Poverty of Historicism.



On the difference between the generalizing sciences and the historical

sciences, Popper considered that the account which he expounded, following

Max Weber, clarified the controversies between some schools of thought:



"One historicist group asserts that history, which does not merely enumerate

facts but attempts to present them in some form of causal connection, must

be interested in the formulation of historical laws, since causality means,

fundamentally, determination by law. Another group, which also includes

historicists, argues that even unique events, events which occur only once

and have nothing general about them, may be the cause of other events, and

that is the kind of causation that history is interested in. We can now see

that both groups are partly right and partly wrong. Universal law and

specific events are together necessary for any causal explanation, but

outside the theoretical sciences, universal laws arouse little interest"

(146).



Section 31. Situational logic in history. Historical interpretation



Popper went on to consider the need that historicism filled, which he identified (with reference

to Tolstoy's War and Peace) as the need to find some alternative to

historical accounts focussed on Great Men. "Spirits or tendencies of the Age" were invoked as a corrective to the Great Man theories but these are equally unhelpful.



"It is the task of sociology to fill [the gap] with something more sensible, such as an analysis of the problems arising within a tradition. There is room for a more detailed analysis of the logic of situations. The best historians have often made use of this conception: Tolstoy, for example, when he describeds how it was not decision but 'neccessity' which made the Russian army yield Moscow without a fight and withdraw to places where it could find food. Beyond this logic of the situation, or perhaps as a part of it, we need something like an analysis of social movements. We need studies, based on methodological individualism, of the social institutions through which ideas may spread and captivate individuals, of the way in which new traditions may be created, and of the way in which traditions work and break down. In other words, our individualistic and institutionalistic models of such collective entities as nations, or governments, or markets, will have to be supplemented by models of political situations as well as of social movements such as scientific and industrial progress. These models may then be used by historians, partly like the other models, and partly for the purpose of explanation, along with the other universal laws they use." (149)
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