Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography - By Aviezer Tucker [Book Review]

Philosophical Books 47 (4):386-388 (2006)


This is a welcome attempt to revive the largely moribund field of post‐analytic philosophy of history. Tucker wishes to make a clean break with previous debate concerning the essential form of historiography—in particular, whether historical explanation requires covering laws, singular causal claims, or narratives. Tucker's topic is rather the relation between present evidence and historiographical ‘hypotheses’. He asks whether such hypotheses are determined, underdetermined, or indetermined by the evidence. He argues that a large part of post‐Rankean historiography is determined by the evidence, and should therefore be regarded as scientific. This historiographical development should be recognised as a significant achievement, indeed as a “third scientific revolution” (p. 260) (following Galileo and Newton). Some contemporary historiography is, however, underdetermined: this portion, together with all pre‐Rankean historiography, is ‘traditionalist historiography’. It makes no epistemic difference whether the historiographical hypotheses are straightforwardly descriptive, explanatory, narrative, or colligatory.

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