Historical Reasoning as Theory-Evidence Coordination
Deanna Kuhn, Michael Weinstock, and Robin Flaton Teachers College, Columbia University
Despite enormous growth in the study of thinking, we still know relatively little about how people reason about the social phenomena and issues involved in disciplines such as history, sociology, and political science. Yet such reasoning abilities could hardly be more important. They are fundamental to participation in a democratic society and arguably, therefore, should hold a privileged place as a focus of education. To become able to engage in effective debate of the serious social issues that arise in the collective life of a society is a potentially unifying goal of education in an increasingly pluralistic culture ( Kuhn, 1993a). Social science topics, moreover, may provide an optimum context for developing reasoning skills, because the average person finds them more accessible than topics in most areas of science.
The nature of historical reasoning, as a particular type of social science reasoning, is even less well understood, and the various contributions to this volume are all addressed to better understanding the cognitive demands and challenges that historical reasoning poses. Historical reasoning focuses on analysis of particular events in the past. One question that needs to be asked is how it differs from analysis of particular events in the present or the future. In both cases, the individual brings to bear a wide range of general knowledge of how social variables function and interrelate in order to interpret the specific events under consideration.
A contrasting form of reasoning that we have studied extensively with both social and nonsocial content is inductive inference. In this case, reasoning is from particular to general -- specific instances are evaluated as a basis for drawing general conclusions. In this chapter, we claim that