Looking for Black Swans: Critical Elimination and History (pages 45-77)

Michael F. Duggan

ABSTRACT: This article examines the basis for testing historical claims and proffers the observation that the historical method is akin to the scientific method in that it utilizes critical elimination rather than justification. Building on the critical rationalism of Karl Popper – and specifically the deductive component of the scientific method called falsification – I examine his tetradic schema and adapt it for the specific purpose of historical analysis by making explicit a discrete step of critical testing, even though the schema is adequate as Popper expresses it and the elimination of error occurs at all steps of analysis. I also add a discrete step of critical elimination to Popper’s schema even though the elimination of error occurs at every step of analysis. The basis for critical elimination history is the demonstrable counterexample. The study of history will never approach the precision of science – history deals with open systems that cannot be replicated like experiments guided by fundamental laws. But just because we cannot know something with the rigor of science does not mean that we cannon know it better than we do. There may be no objective truth in an absolute sense, but there is a distinction to be made between well-tested and poorly tested theories and therefore between history done well and history done with less analytical rigor. What I hope to show is how our historical knowledge may progress through good faith critical discussion – history is discussion – and the elimination of error.

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