Re: Warms, Yee, and LOPO (anti-POMO)

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Thu, 12 Oct 1995 12:36:48 +1000

If forced to choose between lopo and pomo, I think I would run screaming
into the hills instead.

Bob Graber writes:
> Nowhere is this
> clearer than in deductive-nomological explanations based on unfalsified
> law-like generalizations, as analyzed by logical positivism ("LOPO"?)in
> general, and by Hempel in particular. By this standard, as Hempel
> himself showed with his usual clarity, historical "explanations" are not
> merely different, but decidedly *inferior*--and inferior not in some
> obscure technical sense, but in their ability to explain what it is they
> claim to be explaining; so in this sense I do not share D. Yee's opinion
> that there is a species of "historical explanation" that is separate but
> equal.

Do you think that attempting to answer questions such as "Why did Rome
defeat Carthage?" is a worthwhile enterprise? (I'll leave aside the
question of whether it is "science" or not -- it is clearly an intellectual
undertaking in which logic, empirical evidence, and hypothesis formation
and testing are involved.) I'll assume you do, for the moment.

Perhaps it is to be answered by reference to some general law.
But does anyone really think there is a "law" that predicts who
will win wars? Rather more plausibly, the answer will involve the
application of a *very large number* of different laws. And, indeed,
we find that the historians who try to answer such questions assume
make reference to demographics, to ecology, to the agricultural
sciences, and any number of other things, as well as simply assuming
huge amounts of physics and biology. Naturally they also have to
use "historical" information, such as the strength of various cities'
fortifications, the quality of the roads, the weather, the existing
systems of goverment, and so forth.

It is clear (at least to me), that it is not possible to answer
most historical questions *without* evaluating an extremely large
and complex set of causal threads. In general there are no simple
answers. And it is this kind of evaluation I would call "historical
explanation". Such explanations may be "inferior" judged by standards
designed to be applied to deductive-nomological explanation, but if
there are questions we can not answer without them then what does
that matter?

(And yes, maybe the questions involved are not as "fundamental" as
other questions. But then maybe the only people who can "really"
explain anything important are the ones doing fundamental physics. :-)

Danny Yee.