Experimental History

Fri Jul 25 23:54:10 2008
I was struck by how much of Fischer’s chapter on Fallacies of Motivation in Historians’ Fallacies was based on ideas borrowed from psychology. The “Historian’s Fallacy” comes from William James “Psychologist’s Fallacy” in his chapter on The Methods and Snares of Psychology in The Principles of Psychology. Later Fischer turns from the instinct driven view of motivation provide by James, Thorndike and MacDougall to the goal-directed view of motivation as seen in the psychological theories of Maslow and McClelland. He even provides a brief quote from Karl Jaspers who influenced the generation of Existential psychologists in the late 1960’s and 1970’s after Fischer’s book was written. I wonder if recent cognitive or evolutionary psychology might show a way to improvements in historical methodology.

In the section on methodology that Fischer refers to, William James describes three methods of investigation: introspective, comparative and experimental. Recent psychology depends less on the introspective and has found ways to be far more experimental. History, a much older and, one would hope, more mature “science” is still highly dependent upon introspective and comparative methods. Is history forever limited to these methods or is it possible to find a way, as the psychologists did, to become a more experimental discipline?

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~ by severalfourmany on July 25, 2008.

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