In this post I want to pull a thread that has been running through several of our discussions on the blog this week, from Kurt’s tour de force demonstration of the uses of theory, to Andrew’s parsing of politics in Kloppenberg’s explanatory schemes, to Tim’s argument on behalf of the much-maligned footnote.
What I want to talk about – or, to be more precise, what I hope you all will talk about, and help me come to terms with – is the promising yet problematic role of hypothesis in historical argument.
As a point of departure, I will take Julie Reuben’s discussion of the shift in scientific epistemology from the strict empiricism of the early nineteenth century (honored more in the breach than the observance?) to the anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism of the early twentieth century. The transitional thinker in this epistemic shift, standing somewhere between Francis Bacon and William James, is John Stuart Mill. Continue reading