Basic HTML Version

of natural history, and human historical explanation is a species of natural historical
At a minimum, the role of context differs among intellectual domains. The hard sciences (in
the introduction referred to as Science 1) most often seek to eliminate the influence of context
in an effort to discover and replicate “objective truth” and to increase the reliability of
predictions (
ceteris paribus
, cf. Kelly, 1996). By contrast, most of the “human-oriented”
sciences (in the Introduction referred to as Science 2) place context front and center. The
complexity of the world is then dealt with via assumptions and simplifications (the very
ceteris paribus
clauses that the Science 1 practice proclaims).
“One sort of explanation is in terms of antecedent conditions and causal laws; and
goal-directed processes, among other things, can in principle be explained in this way.
Explanations of this type are not distinctive of the life sciences, they are found in all
branches of inquiry, and there is nothing teleological about them. A second sort of
explanation is characteristic of biology and other sciences that deal with purposive
behavior. These explanations do not account for a phenomenon in terms of antecedent
conditions and the mechanisms that produce it. On the contrary, they account, or seem
to account, for the occurrence of a process or of some other item in terms of certain
effects these things have on the system of which they are members, or upon some
other components of the system.” (Nagel, 1979)
“Nomological thinking distinguishes between description, explanation, and valuation.
In nomological thinking, ‘to describe’ means to take the preliminary steps for
ordering the object in order to explain it. The description classifies and enumerates
the relevant features of the object that are, obviously, different in each case. What is
described is what will later be explained. The description is the first step toward the
explanation. ‘To explain,’ means to order the object in a coherent way, until the
achieved order satisfies the cognitive interests of the researcher. An explanation is
said to be adequate or sufficient insofar as it meets the requirements of the knower.
Each historical stage understands ‘explanation’ according to its own practical or
theoretical needs. Consequently, each historical stage believes that it provides
explanations for previously unexplained phenomena. Here we have a description and
its explanation. Description and explanation are answers to different questions, and
different answers to the same question.” (Hon & Rakover, 2001)
“It has long been debated whether the social sciences should be regarded as
legitimately autonomous from the natural sciences, and whether there is, therefore, a
fundamental demarcation between the two. Many philosophers and social scientists
alike have felt that the social sciences deal with a subject matter so disparate from that
of the natural sciences, that fruitful inquiry requires a kind of methodological
independence. In particular, it has often been claimed that the methods of explanation
available to the social sciences are, and should be, radically unlike those pursued in