Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences

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Overview

Possibilities haunt history. The force of our explanations of events turns on the alternative possibilities those explanations suggest. It is these possible worlds that give us our understanding; and in human affairs, we decide them by practical rather than theoretical judgment. In this widely acclaimed account of the role of counterfactuals in explanation, Geoffrey Hawthorn deploys extended examples to defend his argument. His conclusions cast doubt on existing assumptions about the nature and place of theory, and indeed of the possibility of knowledge itself, in the human sciences.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Geoffrey Hawthorn, the British sociologist best known for his Enlightenment and Despair: A History of Sociology (1976), has been thinking about possibility. This book is the elegant result...This volume is a marvelously stimulating and thought-provoking work. It ought to be on the reading lists of advanced courses on both the theory and the methodology of history writing." American Historical Review

"Hawthorn's Plausible Worlds is not only a good read, filled with all sorts of fascinating information, but a book that raises very large and interesting questions about the nature of explanation in the human sciences. I found his answers to these questions persuasive." Richard Rorty

"There is much about the intellectual armature of Plausible Worlds that will appeal to the practising historian....Few recent books have made me realise as keenly as has Hawthorn's how strong an incentive there is in us to deterministic thinking, and how comforting it is to see determinism rendered concrete as the shape of history. Those who wish to train themselves in the fortitude needed to resist this lure will find in Plausible Worlds much stimulation and encouragement." Gerald Strauss, Times Higher Education Supplement

"...wonderfully playful and intelligent book..." The London Review of Books

"With this elegant and engaging work Hawthorn has established himself as one of the major contributors to the philosophy of history in the late 20th century....As Hawthorn shows with clarity and rigor, knowledge and conjecture go hand in hand in understanding history. This book is not a call for Pyrrhonism but a defense of reasoned judgment." Choice

"...intriguing because the theoretical sections are suggestive and incisive....Hawthorn's learning is impressive and his objectives are worthy....Hawthorn makes valuable suggestions for avoiding determinism and for escaping from epistemological nonsense...." Ronald J. VanderMolen, The Historian

"This volume is a marvelously stimulating and thought-provoking work" American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521457767
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Table of Contents

1. Counterfactuals, explanation and understanding; 2. Plague and fertility in early modern Europe; 3. The United States in South Korea; 4. Duccio's painting; 5. Explanation, understanding and theory.

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