2. REASONS, GENERALIZATIONS, EMPATHY, AND NARRATIVES: THE EPISTEMIC STRUCTURE OF ACTION EXPLANATION

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ABSTRACT

It has become something of a consensus among philosophers of history that historians, in contrast to natural scientists, explain in a narrative fashion. Unfortunately, philosophers of history have not said much about how it is that narratives have explanatory power. They do, however, maintain that a narrative's explanatory power is sui generis and independent of our empathetic or reenactive capacities and of our knowledge of law-like generalizations. In this article I will show that this consensus is mistaken at least in respect to explanatory strategies used to account for rational agency using the “folk-psychological” framework of intentions, beliefs, desires, and the like. Philosophers distinguish insufficiently among different aspects and different types of information needed for a historian to persuasively account for an agent's behavior in particular circumstances. If one keeps these aspects apart it will become apparent exactly how one should understand the epistemic contribution of empathy, generalizations, and narrative for the explanation of action.

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