June 17, 2020

The historian’s fallacy is an informal fallacy that occurs when one assumes that decision Fischer did not suggest that historians should refrain from retrospective analysis in their work, but he reminded historians that their subjects were not. Full text of “Historians Fallacies Toward A Logic Of Historical Thought” ; quoted in Roger A. Fischer, “Racial Segregation in Ante Bellum New Orleans,”. HISTORIANS’. FALLACIES. Toward a Logic of Historical Thought by David Hackett Fischer. HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS. NEW YORK, EVANSTON, AND.

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No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written pcrmiasoo except in the case of brief quota- tions embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper k Row, Publishers, Inc. For that reason, perhaps, it has been satisfactorily studied by none of them. Many professional logicians will refuse to recognize it as a logical problem at all.

They have been at some pains to show that their subject is an intellectual discipline in its own right — even the intellectual discipline. They are customarily committed to a search for the logic of thought about everything in general, and nothing in particular. One philosopher, Stephen Toulmin, has proposed a different strategy: To think up new and better methods of arguing in any field is to make a major advance, not just in logic, but in the substantive field itself.

Few logicians have responded to his call. Most of them are still moving in the opposite direction. If there is a field-related logic of historical thought, then working historians must help to find it. But they have contributed little of con- sequence in the past forty years. Their articles and books on the nature of history tend to degenerate into mere exhortations, or manuals on the mechanics of citation, or metahistorical mumbo-jumbo. Many academic historians regard methodological and logical problems with suspicion and even hostility.

Incredibly, the word “logic” is often a pejorative, 1. Sometimes it is used as a synonym for determinism by embattled antideterminists. A Scottish historian writes, “No doubt it was ‘in the logic of history’ that England should endeavor to absorb Scotland.

None the less, the first English attempt at a whole- sale conquest resulted from two dynastic accidents. An American historian writes contemptuously of a colleague, “He had little evidence to go upon as yet, and so he resorted frankly to logic. It reaches back to Carlyle’s contempt for the “dead logic formula,” and to Guizot’s epigram that “Nothing falsifies history more than logic.

That great blight upon histor- ical scholarship is remembered as a repudiation of the empirical aspira- tions of “scientific history. We have long since learned not to bother overmuch with reason and logic. Logic was formerly visualized as something outside us, something existing independently which, if we were willing, could take us by the hand and lead us into the paths of truth. We now suspect that it was something the mind has created to conceal its timidity and keep up its courage, a hocus-pocus designed to give formal validity to conclusions we are willing to accept if everybody else in our set will loo.

If all men are mortal an assumptionand if Socrates was a man in the sense assumedno doubt Socrates must have been mortal; but we suspect that we somehow knew all this before it was submitted to the test of a syllogism. Logics have a way of multiplying in response to the changes in point of view.

The secure foundations of deductive and inductive logic have been battered to pieces by the ascertain- able facts, so that we really have no choice; we must cling to the ascertain- able facts though they slay us. Stanley Baldwin boasted in the yearthat “one of the reasons why our 2. A History of Scotland Baltimore,p. PREFACE xi people are alive and flourishing, and have avoided many of the troubles that have fallen to less happy nations, is that we have never been guided by logic in anything we did.


Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

Its continuing existence among academic historians explains their failure to refine a logic of historical thought. When a distinguished American historian openly asserts that “a good bed book is more to be desired than another Critique of Pure Reason,'” 1 it is not astonishing that fisher Critique of Hsitorians Reason has failed to appear. A good deal of relevant and important work has recently been done, not by logicians or historians, but by epistemologists. Today, a special subdiscipline of epistemology called the analytical philosophy of history is in a flourishing condition.

Any historian who wishes to understand the nature of his own work has much to learn from it, and particularly from two excellent new books by Arthur Danto and Morton White. First, analytical philosophers of history are simply not much interested in low problems of utility. They have not sufficiently attended to historical thinking as it actually happens, or to historical problems as they actually exist.

Third, epistemologists have characteristically tried to analyze historical knowledge in terms of something else more familiar to them. Often in terms of some epistemo- logical abstraction which bears small resemblance to the thinking which anybody actually does.

Most analytical philosophers who have written on the subject attempt to force historical knowledge into a formula which the cognoscenti call the Hempelian model, or the Covering Law model, or the Deductive Model of Explanation. This abstraction, I believe, is seriously mistaken as an understanding of historian thinking of historians, or of social scientists, or of natural scientists for that matter.

Winston Churchill similarly remarked that “Logic fiscuer a poor guide compared with custom. Mullett, in The American Historical Review 72 White, The Foundations of Historical Knowledge, p. For an extended critique by a working social scientist, see Eugene Meehan, Explana- tion in the Fallaciees Sciences: A System Paradigm Homewood, See also chapter fiscuer, below.

Afllacies good many intelligent men have wasted a great deal of time and effort to reconcile this epistemological error with empirical facts which so obviously contradict it. The results are often ingenious, but rarely productive. Stirrings of a new spirit are slowly beginning to appear, but the Hempelian model, in histrians forms, retains its popularity.

There are other schools of historical epistemology, which are equally unsatisfactory. One of them is organized around the central idea that to write history is to tell a story. This, I think, is partly true for some historians, but entirely false for others, and insufficient for all.

I shall argue in the following chapters that history-writing is not story- telling but problem solving.

Sometimes the solution takes the form of a story. But hustorians and increasingly today historlans different kind of explana- tion-strategy is adopted. I believe this “idea of history” to be fallacious, and have briefly discussed it as such in Chapter 7, below. Those historians who imagine themselves to be emancipated from phi- losophy are apt, in Keynes’s phrase, to be the slaves of some defunct philosopher.

If the fischerr and epistemology of historical thought are to be understood, if historical and logical and epistemological thinking are to be refined, then historians, logicians, epistemologists, and others must work together in a spirit of mutual cooperation.

Each of these proud disciplines has much to teach the others — and much to learn as well. The most extended statement of this understanding of history as story-telling appears in W. The most influential text is R.

Historian’s fallacy

Collingwood, The Idea of History Oxford, Gallie, Philosophy and the Historical Understanding, p. A Comment,” in Sidney Hook, ed. My interest in the subject was awakened ten years ago by a philosopher, Ronald Butler, in an undergraduate course at Princeton University on the analytical philosophy of history.


Ramsay MacMullen kindly answered a question on Livy, and Douglas Stewart fallaciees with problems of Greek historiography. George Billias gave me a chance to try out my ideas on some of his students, and also the benefit of his own criticism. Hexter and Arthur Danto read and criticized the manuscript, and it is better for their suggestions. A special falllacies is due to my students in His- tory 97 at Brandeis University, and particularly to Hillel Schwartz and Eric Uslaner who voluntarily produced written critiques of the book.

I am especially obliged histodians Hugh Van Dusen and Cynthia Merman for their help, and to Antonia Rachiele for her intelligent and painstaking criticism of the manuscript. Brandeis Uni- versity provided a generous grant-in-aid.

Judith, my wife, made the pro- ject possible in every other way. The logic of historical thought is not a formal logic of deductive inference. It is not a symmetrical structure of Aristotelian syllogisms, or Ramean dialectics, or Boolean equations. Nor is it precisely an inductive logic, like that of Mill or Keynes or Carnap. It consists neither in in- ductive reasoning from the particular to the general, nor in deductive reasoning from the general to the particular.

Instead, it is a process of adductive reasoning in the simple sense of adducing answers to specific questions, so that a satisfactory explanatory “fit” is obtained. The answers may be general or particular, as the questions may require. History is, in short, a problem-solving discipline. A historian is someone anyone who asks an open-ended question about past events and answers it with selected facts which are arranged in the form of an explanatory paradigm.

These questions and answers are fitted to each other by a complex pro- cess of mutual adjustment. The resultant explanatory paradigm may take many different forms: Most commonly it consists not in fisscher one of these components but in a combination of them.

Always, it is articulated in the form of a reasoned argument.

Historian’s fallacy – Wikipedia

In this book an event is understood as any past happening. A fact is a true descriptive statement about past events. To explain is merely to make plain, clear, or understand- able some problem about past events, so that resultant knowledge will be useful in dealing with future problems. An explanatory paradigm is an interactive structure of fizcher questions and the factual statements which are adduced to answer them.

Whether the purpose at hand is to design a proper question, or to select a fallaciees set of factual answers, or to verify their factuality, or to form them into a statistical generalization which itself becomes a fact, or whatever — it always involves the making of purposive and procedural assumptions that entail certain logical consequences. Every historian must learn to live within the limits which his own freely chosen assumptions impose upon him. These assumptions may differ radically from one historian to the next, but always they exist, and a historian must learn to respect them.

If he does not, then he will pay a penalty in a diminution of the degree to which his purposes are attained. No cischer is free from the logic of his own rational assumptions — unless he wishes to be free from rationality itself. Assuming that this logic of historical thought does tacitly exist, the next question is how to raise it to the level of consciousness. In the opinion of some intelligent men, this task is not merely difficult but impossible.

Michael Polanyi has suggested that scientists do indeed proceed by a logic of tacit inference — but one which is only learned through personal experience and can never be articulated.

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