Argues against the view of H. L. A. Hart and A. M. Honore ( Causation in the Law, Oxford, 1959) that factual or descriptive causal responsibility is logically independent of normative responsibility. Rather, according to Cohen, "the distinction must often be between explicitly normative responsibility and speciously descriptive causal responsibility" (358 n.). Cohen admits that his view implies a paradox that Hart and Honore point out: that general normative judgments of what ought to be done (or not left undone) then precede causal descriptions which in turn preceed assessment of merit or blame (357). But this is exactly what people, and historians, often do. Paradoxical or not, "we commonly employ language for purposes other than the description and communication of facts and that, in many contexts, moral and other valuative suasion is facilitated by the use of speciously descriptive forms of speech" (358).
"Some kinds of history are perenially disputatious" and cannot be resolved by more research because "what passes for an argument about specific descriptive features of the past is a controversy about how men ought to have behaved and ultimately . . . about what is good and bad, right or wrong" (355). For example, on the question of the inevitability of the American Civil War, one side (e.g. Schlesinger, Jr.) is really saying that the war was inevitable because slavery was so evil that only war could root it out. The revisionists' (e.g. Craven) view that the war was the avoidable result of the deeds of a "blundering generation" is based, according to Cohen, on the idea that slavery was not an evil sufficient to justify the greater evil of war (353). "Thus the historian's attempt to provide an account of the past clashes . . . with the belief that the account should be objective and free of the author's moral judgments" (359). If the valuative nature of causative interpretations were made more explicit, fractious disputes over the "facts" would all but cease. But historians would then be faced with another problem, as "resources for the support of moral valuations are . . . relatively impoverished, and one would not expect historians, whose 'true office' [H. Butterfield] is elsewhere, to be particularly skilled in their deployment" (360). (Kevin Burnett) (Abstract via Allan Megill)