Philosophy as the Mapping of Conceptual Space. The Case of Causal Explanation in History

Dr Veli Virmajoki (University of Turku, Finland)
30.03.23, 16h (Finnish time)


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In this talk, I sketch an approach to conceptual issues in historiography. I argue that philosophy of historiography has a clarificatory function and it achieves the clarification by mapping conceptual spaces. The goal of philosophy is not to define how we "really" should think about some issue but how could connect different issues to each other.

As an illustration, I discuss the notion of "causal explanation" in historiography. I argue that philosophy of historiography needs to (a) map the conceptual space surrounding the notion, (b) find a core notion that enables us to make sense of the conceptual space, and (c) explain how the core notions clarify the conceptual space. This means that the philosophical investigation of historiographical explanation has two directions. On the one hand, it needs to provide an explication of the core notions that can clarify and make understandable the conceptual space surrounding causal explanation in historiography. On the other hand, it has to map the surrounding conceptual space in order to find those features of historiographical explanation that the core notions have to be able to capture. The core notions need to be faithful to the issues and notions that surround causal explanation in historiography.

I discuss issues such as narratives, contingency, explanatory depth, and the role of generalizations in historiographical explanations. I show how different notions of causal explanation do or do not enable us to understand these notions. I argue that the approach thus sketched enables us discuss philosophical accounts in a piecemeal and constructive manner.

Last updated: 17.3.2023