Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Science of Stories: Human History and the Narrative Philosophy of Science

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:30 authored by Hurley, Robert Alexander

There is a pronounced tendency within contemporary philosophy of history to think of historical knowledge as something apart from the kind of knowledge generated in the sciences. This has given rise to a myriad of epistemological issues. For if historical knowledge is not related to the scientific, then what is it? By what logic does it proceed? How are historical conclusions justified? Although almost the entirety of contemporary philosophy of history has been dedicated to such questions, there has been little real and agreed upon progress. Rather than fire yet another salvo in this rhetorical war, however, this thesis wishes instead to examine what lies beneath the basic presumption of separatism which animates it. Part One examines several paradigmatic examples of twentieth century philosophy of history in order to identify the grounds by which their authors considered history fundamentally different in kind from the sciences. It is concluded that, in each case, the case for separatism fows from the pervasive assumption that any body of knowledge which might rightly be called a science can be recognised by its search for general laws of nature. As history does not seem to share this aim, it is therefore considered to be knowledge of a fundamentally different kind. This thesis terms this the "nomothetic assumption." Part Two argues that such nomothetic assumptions are not an accurate representation of either scientific theory or practice and therefore that any assumption of separatism based upon them is unsound. To do this, examples of acknowledged scientific problems from the biological and geological sciences which do not involve the use of general laws are examined, with the aim of discovering how these historical disciplines are able to do the work of explanation in their absence. They do so, it is concluded, through a mechanism of epistemic (as opposed to literary) narrative. Having thus identified how historical sciences proceed without making direct use of laws, Part Two then generalises this model of scientific narrative and shows how it can be used to model existing practices in human history. This conclusion has far-reaching consequences, for it brings a single definition, method, and logic of confirmation to all studies of the past – whether traditionally acknowledged as scientific or historical. Thus all historical enquiries proceed by a common logic and by a common method. This effectively and definitively places human history among the sciences, without the need for the kind of radical transformation past attempts to do this have required.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Fairburn, Miles; Maxwell, Alexander