Narratives, mechanisms and progress in historical science

Date

2014

Authors

Currie, Adrian

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Springer Netherlands

Abstract

Geologists, Paleontologists and other historical scientists are frequently concerned with narrative explanations targeting single cases. I show that two distinct explanatory strategies are employed in narratives, simple and complex. A simple narrative has minimal causal detail and is embedded in a regularity, whereas a complex narrative is more detailed and not embedded. The distinction is illustrated through two case studies: the 'snowball earth' explanation of Neoproterozoic glaciation and recent attempts to explain gigantism in Sauropods. This distinction is revelatory of historical science. I argue that at least sometimes which strategy is appropriate is not a pragmatic issue, but turns on the nature of the target. Moreover, the distinction reveals a counterintuitive pattern of progress in some historical explanation: shifting from simple to complex. Sometimes, historical scientists rightly abandon simple, unified explanations in favour of disunified, complex narratives. Finally I compare narrative and mechanistic explanation, arguing that mechanistic approaches are inappropriate for complex narrative explanations.

Description

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Citation

Source

Synthese

Type

Journal article

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights

DOI

10.1007/s11229-013-0317-x

Restricted until

2037-12-31