[hist-analytic] Analytic Philosophy of History

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at btinternet.com
Fri Sep 17 17:35:54 EDT 2010


Hi Steve,

 

Sorry if my post was not entirely clear. You are right that for early Popper
'cause' is explained in terms of natural law statements (the cause is
specified by the initial conditions which, together with the law-statement,
entail a statement of the effect). Thus the necessity of causation is
reduced to logical necessity (the entailment just referred to). Popper had a
dispute with William Kneale about this. I think Kneale was right (so do
you): a statement of an accidental generalisation would also yield the sort
of entailment Popper speaks of, but would involve no causality. See Appendix
*x of 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery,' pp. 420-41 of the 1972 edition.

 

For later Popper, we have no causation as traditionally understood: it is
never the case that one event necessitates another and it is never the case
that a statement of natural law plus initial conditions entails a prediction
of a particular event. The reason is that he thinks that all natural laws
are probabilistic. So, whatever event occurs, and whatever the relevant
natural laws happen to be, there is no other event that is bound to happen
as a consequence. There is always a range of possible occurrences, some more
probable than others. For this see 'Realism and the Aim of Science,' esp.
pp. 288, 358-60, 'Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics,' esp. pp.
159-211, and 'A World of Propensities.'

 

When we turn to social scientific and historical explanation, Popper does
not accept that these explanations employ causal laws (except subsidiarily).
For here we are concerned with the actions of free (undetermined) agents and
the explanation is teleological, in terms of the aims and information of
individual human agents (given the situation in which they act). Popper's
methodological individualism here was opposed to the mysticism of people who
tried to explain social or historical events in terms of the aims or
purposes of society or history. Popper opposed individual teleology to
collective teleology.

 

Popper discusses social and historical explanation in a number of places. As
is usual with him, he is not always careful with his terminology (in the
'Open Society,' for instance, he talks of historical explanations being
causal). His most systematic and detailed statement of the similarities and
differences between the human and the natural sciences is in 'Models,
Instruments and Truth,' to which I referred last time. What he says there
has been subject to a good deal of confused debate. But it should actually
be straightforward to anyone familiar with 'The Logic of Scientific
Discovery.' I have a draft paper on it: if you want to take a look at it,
just let me know.

 

Cheers.

 

Danny

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