News

Loading...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just the Facts, Mam: The Origins of Political Order.

It is often supposed that history collects a bunch of facts, and that these facts then stand in need of explanation by some other subject: perhaps economics, or sociology, or biology, or... something else. Fukuyama often seems to have such a view of what he is doing in The Origins of Political Order.

This view is mistaken, and the person holding it has not yet grasped that history is its own form of understanding. The historian does not gather a number of facts which then stand in need of explanation. When the historians knows what the facts are, he has already arrived at his explanation. That is because the way one settles upon what the facts of some historical episode are is to see what makes sense of the evidence you have at hand. And to have determined what posited past events will make sense of your evidence is to have explained those events in the very same process.

2 comments:

  1. Are you saying that facts admit of some cause-effect relation by themselves?

    I am skeptical.

    Between events A and B, there could be a million reasons for A leading to B. One might cite a plausible reason for A leading to B. But plausibility has little to do with what actually happened.

    Plus, there is the human error, that in trying to understand or rationalize certain events, we may use confirmation bias and narrative fallacy to force our preferred explanation into them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Prateek, I am going to respond in a top-level post, because these are important questions.

    ReplyDelete