I’m out of town for a bit & in the midst of packing, so this is messy thinking-out-loud & will be the only post for a few days.
Further to earlier musings, I have been thinking a little about what it means to explain something. There seems to be a difference between causal explanations like (1) “smoking causes lung cancer” and (2) “that banana skin caused me to slip” — for instance, (1) is analyzed probabilistically while (2) is specific to circumstance. The trouble I then encounter is which category historical explanation falls into. Indeed, it seems we might be supposed to use explanations of type (2) to reach explanations of type (1). We might be interested in explanation (2), “Those peasants revolted because they were hungry”, because we want to (statistically?) ascertain explanation (1), “Hungry peasants cause revolutions”.
This sort of reasoning seems to be a process of establishing historical laws with both explanatory and predictive (if only probabilistically) powers. Do historical explanations always ultimately need to refer to some kind of type (1) explanation (“law”)? — are we always ultimately interested in the kinds of explanations that do lead to type (1)s? Does the type (2) explanation “Joe got lung cancer because he smokes 10 packs a day” really have any meaning without the implicit type (1) “smoking causes lung cancer”?
More when I get back — hopefully less disorganized blather. Thoughts are appreciated, as always.