Epistemic Respectability in History

by Richard Baron

This book investigates the epistemology of claims that are made within historical accounts. It proposes an epistemic standard for historical claims that offer to make sense of events, states of affairs or ways of life. Claims may for example state that certain events led to other events or that in certain circumstances, certain developments were not surprising.

Claims such as these need a special standard because they are sometimes contestable. Historians can easily disagree over how to explain what happened. Such disagreement would make it very difficult to say that the claims were justified in the traditional epistemological sense that is in play when justification is linked to knowledge. So a rule that only justified claims should be made would lead to the dismissal of important historical claims, merely because they were not universally accepted. On the other hand, it would be wrong to allow just any claim to be recognized as sensible. There is therefore a case for a different standard of epistemic respectability, less demanding than the standard of justification but not too relaxed.

This book discusses the nature of historical work and reasons why claims are contestable, formulates a standard, and then makes connections with established traditions in epistemology.

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