The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book The Logic of Historical Explanation

The Logic of Historical Explanation

Clayton Roberts
  • Copyright: 1996
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 332 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-01442-5
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-01443-2
“In an era when some historians tell us that the truth about history is that history does not tell the truth, it is refreshing to find a book such as this, which boldly asserts that history not only tells the truth but explains past events causally.”
“This is a splendid book, worthy of a very close reading by anyone interested in the issues and arguments that dominated the discussion of history by Anglo-American philosophers, especially in the sixties and seventies.”

Ever since 1942, when Carl Hempel declared that historical events are explained by subsuming them under laws governing the occurrence of similar events, philosophers have debated the validity of explanations based on "covering laws." In The Logic of Historical Explanation, Clayton Roberts provides a key to understanding the role of covering laws in historical explanation. He does so by distinguishing between their use at the macro- and micro- levels, a distinction that no other scholar has made.

Roberts contends that the positivists were right to believe that covering laws are indispensable in historical explanations but wrong to think that these laws apply to macro-events (such as wars and revolutions). Similarly, the humanists were right to declare that historians do not explain the occurrence of macro-events by subsuming them under covering laws but wrong to deny the role of covering laws in tracing the course of events leading to the macro-event. Roberts resolves this debate by showing that, though useless in explaining macro-events, covering laws are indispensable in connecting the steps in an explanatory narrative. He then sets forth the logic of an explanatory narrative, explores the nature of rational explanation, and distinguishes the logic of historical interpretation from the logic of historical explanation.

Clayton Roberts is Professor Emeritus of History at the Ohio State University. His previous books include The Growth of Responsible Government in Stuart England (2008).

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