Historical explanation

“Much historical explanation, therefore, where it is not guided by common-sense experience or by the hypotheses of the natural or social sciences, must remain a matter of speculation. There can be no proof from counterfactuals: they never occur. Thus, we cannot be certain about either the causes or the effects of what did not happen. (Would Hitler have conquered us had we lost the Battle of Britain in August and September 1940? We cannot say, because our losing that battle is contrary to the facts.) Historians have an undoubted duty to try to account for all they recount. On the other hand, we must never forget that it is frequently quite impossible for them to do so. That is why historical explanations can be psychologically satisfying – they appear to answer our questions, but all too often they are (unavoidably) deficient in logic.”


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