Historiographic narratives and empirical evidence: a case study

Synthese (forthcoming)

Several scholars observed that narratives about the human past are evaluated comparatively. Few attempts have been made, however, to explore how such evaluations are actually done. Here I look at a lengthy “contest” among several historiographic narratives, all constructed to make sense of another one—the biblical story of the conquest of Canaan. I conclude that the preference of such narratives can be construed as a rational choice. In particular, an easily comprehensible and emotionally evocative narrative will give way to a complex and mundane one, when the latter provides a more coherent account of the consensually accepted body of evidence. This points to a fundamental difference between historiographic narratives and fiction, contrary to some influential opinions in the philosophy of historiography. Such historiographic narratives have similarities with hypotheses and narrative explanations in natural science.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-018-02065-w
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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 15 (58):158-161.
Aspects of Scientific Explanation.Carl G. Hempel - 1965 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 37 (4):747-749.
The Web of Belief.W. V. O. Quine & J. S. Ullian - 1970 - New York: Random House.
Narrative Explanation.J. David Velleman - 2003 - Philosophical Review 112 (1):1-25.

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