Can understanding undermine explanation? The confused experience of revolution

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34 (3):328-351 (2004)
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Abstract

This article makes six points, using evidence from the Iranian Revolution of 1979: (1) Causal mechanisms, indeed all explanations, imply certain inner states on the part of individuals. (2) The experience of revolution is dominated by confusion. (3) People involved in revolutions act largely in response to their best guesses about how others are going to act. (4) These guesses and responses can shift swiftly and dramatically, in ways that participants and observers cannot predict. (5) Explanation involves retroactive prediction: it implies that if we had recognized causal factors A, B, or C at the time, we would have expected some ensuing development. (6) To the extent that revolutionary experience is characterized by confusion, then understanding this experience may disconfirm all explanation. Key Words: understanding • Verstehen • explanation • revolution.

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