The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4088-2

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4087-5
Publication Date
January 2020
Page Count
208 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation

Paul A. Roth

In The Philosophical Structure of Historical Explanation, Paul A. Roth develops an argument that resolves disputes persisting since the nineteenth century about the scientific status of history. He does this by showing why historical explanations must take the form of a narrative, making their logic explicit, and revealing how the rational evaluation of narrative explanation becomes possible.

The book also develops a nonrealist (irrealist) metaphysics and epistemology of history—that is, it argues that there exists no one fixed past but many pasts. It includes a novel reading of Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, displaying how Kuhn offers a narrative explanation of theory change in science. And it situates narrative explanations within a naturalistic framework. 

The first four chapters defuse methodological and metaphysical objections to narrative explanations. The final three chapters explore how narrative explanations relate to other sciences. This book will be of interest to researchers in historiography, philosophy of history, philosophy of science, philosophy of social science, and epistemology. 

About the Author

PAUL A. ROTH is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an affiliated faculty member of the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Hradec Králové.

“In this clear, forceful, and inspiring book, Paul A. Roth sets for himself an audacious task: the revival of philosophy of history and a recalibration of how to understand and account for historical explanation. Roth succeeds and with surgical precision offers a new account of narrative historical explanation that holds its own distinct epistemological and metaphysical factors and yet also aligns with other forms of scientific knowledge. It is an erudite and original work that is essential reading for all scholars invested in understanding our relation to the past and the ways that the histories we write come to impact our present and future.” —Ethan Kleinberg, author of Haunting History: For a Deconstructive Approach to the Past

"Do historians just tell stories or do their narratives provide explanations of events that can be rationally evaluated? They explain, says Paul Roth, contradicting fifty years of assumed wisdom. In a penetrating analysis of 'essentially narrative explanations' Roth makes his case, showing not only how narratives explain in historical works but that—extending Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—any science that counts as such must be accounted for through a narrative explanation." —M. Norton Wise, author of Aesthetics, Industry, and Science: Hermann von Helmholtz and the Berlin Physical Society

"Is historiography a science? Can or should it be? In addressing these issues, Roth (philosophy, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) follows the lead of Thomas Kuhn’s 'paradigm shift' model to assert that the past one thinks one knows is not set in stone; it changes as priorities, epistemologies, metaphysics, and methodologies change." —T. S. Martin, emeritus, Sinclair College, CHOICE

"With great erudition, Roth lays out his argument that narrative is an essential cognitive instrument to make sense of the world, in historiography and natural science, and beyond. This book is a must read for anyone genuinely interested in the relations between philosophy and history." —Jouni‑Matti Kuukkanen, Metascience