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Historians' Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought by David Hackett Fischer

By David Hackett Fischer

"If one laughs whilst David Hackett Fischer sits right down to play, one will remain to cheer. His booklet needs to be learn 3 times: the 1st in anger, the srcond in laughter, the 3rd in respect....The knowledge is expressed with a certin ruthlessness. Scarcly an enormous historian escapes unscathed. 10000 individuals of the AmericanHistorical organization will rush to the index and breathe a bit more straightforward to discover their names absent.

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There is much to be salvaged from the wreckage-a zeal for quantification of historical problems, a determination to make questions and assumptions explicit, and an impressive conceptual sophistication. But Fogel's inquiry is flawed by three fatal inconsistencies : First, his evidence of a transportation net which might have operated in the · absence of railroads is necessarily derived from a world in which railroads were present. Fogel tries to allow for this bias in his material, but only by introducing other fictional constructs which assume what he promises to prove by empirical inquiry.

Carr believes that the in­ ev itabil i ty problem "attaches itself almost exclusively to contemporary h isto ry . ' I am sure it was intended as a perfectly serious talk. ' you would at once have suspected some joke. The historian writes of the Norman conquest or the American war of independence as if what happened was in fact bound to happen, and as if it was his business simply to e xpl ai n what happened and w hy " ( ibid. ) . But this, unfortunately, is no t true, at least as far as the American Revolution is concerned.

The working historian, in my opinion, is well advised to deal with these dilemmas by a method of indifference. 20 Some historians of a humanist bent will protest that all historical problems are metaphysical problems. This is humbug. It can be argued that all historical problems can be made into metaphysical problems if 1 6. , "The Causes of the Ci vil War : A Note on Historical Sentimen tal i sm , " Partisan Review 16 ( 1 949 ) : 980. 17. P i ete r Geyl, "The American Civil War and the Problem of Inevi ta bi l ity ," Debates with Historians ( New York, 1958 ) , p.

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