Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
My dissertation is focused on the question of how it is that explanation works in the “historical sciences” (i.e. scientific disciplines dealing with questions of the deep past). I survey the extant literature in order to develop a loose taxonomy of approaches as developed up to this point. While there are some deep differences in these approaches, at least one common theme emerges: the overwhelming majority of philosophical (and scientific) work on historical narrative explanation understands such explanations to be focused on highly particularized explanatory targets. That is, narrative explanations are understood to involve the reconstruction of highly particular causal histories that are supposed to explain the generation of a highly particular explananda of interest. The majority of the literature, then, has (wittingly or unwittingly) upheld the distinction between the so-called nomothetic sciences (e.g. physics) and the idiographic sciences (e.g. paleontology). The nomothetic sciences, it is supposed, offer explanations in terms of laws and regularities, whereas the idiographic sciences explain by “depicting” narrative structures. Further, the idiographic sciences, insofar as they explain, supposedly do so in a way that is impoverished relative to the nomothetic sciences. I thinkthis distinction rests on several mistakes, which I attempt to remedy in my dissertation.
Swaim, Daniel Glyn, "Time's Deep Rhythms: Models, Mechanisms, And Narratives In Historical Explanation" (2022). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 4910.