The function of general laws in history

Journal of Philosophy 39 (2):35-48 (1942)
Abstract
The classic logical positivist account of historical explanation, putting forward what is variously called the "regularity interpretation" (#Gardiner, The Nature of Historical Explanation), the "covering law model" (#Dray, Laws and Explanation in History), or the "deductive model" (Michael #Scriven, "Truisms as Grounds for Historical Explanations"). See also #Danto, Narration and Knowledge, for further criticisms of the model. Hempel formalizes historical explanation as involving (a) statements of determining (initial and boundary) conditions for the event to be explained, and (b) statements of general laws that imply that whenever events of the kind described in (a) occur, an event of the kind to be explained will take place. He admits that in practice historians rarely explain historical events in this way, but instead give only fragmentary "explanation sketches." Such sketches can, however, be "scientifically acceptable," providing it points to where "more specific statements" are to be found (351). An interesting aspect of the article is its "late" positivist, proto‑Kuhnian assertion that "the separation of 'pure description' and 'hypothetical generalization and theory construction' in empirical science is unwarranted" (356). But Hempel does not work out the wider implications of this important conclusion. It is also worth noting that he himself was not much interested in the philosophy of history; other authors took up his model and discussed it within that context. Usefully discussed by #Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 1:112‑17
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Paul Needham (1999). Reduction and Abduction in Chemistry-a Response to Scerri. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13 (2):169 – 184.

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