This paper deals with the question of whether and when it is appropriate or inappropriate to say that a social group performs an action. After some remarks on the concept of action three kinds of groups are distinguished, i.e. assemblies, institutions, and classes. It is found that in the first two of these cases predication of action is possible: an assembly can act in that all its members act, or some of them do who are interchangeable with any others; and (...) an institution can act because it has a structure and some individuals can act on its behalf. A class, however, cannot be said to act, for its concept may be freely formed, its members cannot be assembled, and it has no organs through which actions could be performed. (shrink)
Understanding in its widest sense is the aim of all rational knowledge. A distinction can be made between interpretation (leading to the understanding of meanings) and explanation (leading to the understanding of facts). The view that in the social sciences facts and meanings are the same is criticized. In respect of the specific understanding of human and social facts empathetic and rational understanding are distinguished and some of the difficulties pointed out inherent in both, in particular with regard to testability. (...) On the other hand, it is found that a purely behaviouristic approach, although possible, would not be completely satisfactory, so that in spite of all difficulties the social sciences (history included) cannot do without specific understanding, as a heuristic device as well as an aim. (shrink)
It is pointed out against the two critics (a) that an identity or partial identity of meanings and facts is logically impossible, (b) that the logical grammar of ?identify? and ?explain? is different from that of ?understand? and that hence understanding can never be an operation of identifying or explaining, and (c) that rational understanding does not involve a ?reproduction? of the subject matter in any controversial sense.
Dray: Mandelbaum legislates regarding the historian's "task" in the guise of descriptive analysis. He seems to envisage two fundamental tasks for the historian: explaining, and relating parts to wholes. Contrary to Mandelbaum's implication, there is no more opposition between narration and either of these tasks than there is between the two tasks themselves.Ely: Mandelbaum refutes White and Danto, who both hold that historical writing is essentially narrative; but not Gallie, who asserts that historical writing is necessarily, but never solely, a (...) narrative construction. The claim that history is essentially narrative is fruitful even though false because it recognizes an important characteristic of historical thinking - the historian's conceptual isolation of a series of intentional human actions from the situations with which they were designed to cope.Gruner: Mandelbaurn is correct in his criticism of narrativism, but does not support his criticism by good reasons. Historians offer both static, non-narrative descriptions and kinetic, narrative descriptions. Historical description is therefore not the same as historical narration; the latter is only a species of the former. (shrink)