An Apologia for Theoretical History. In Memory of Sir Karl Raimund Popper

Karl Popper's critique of theoretical history remains formidable but contains serious flaws. Popper held erroneous views about the practice of the natural sciences and created overly severe strictures for theoretical statements in the social sciences. General theory and general theoretical statements play a legitimate role in the social sciences. Merton has promoted middle-range theories and models and Lakatos multiple ontologies. One can answer Popper's criticisms of either the impossibility or triviality of long-term historical laws by searching for stable constellations of local or middle-range laws rather than a universal law. Moreover, the successful use in the social sciences of various types of scales of measurement rather than an absolute scale shows that quantitative analysis is possible in history. Investigators need to find the boundaries, the frameworks of feasibility, in which historical trends and laws operate. Popper's maximalism plays into the irrationalist trends that he himself deplored. If historical investigators and theoreticians set appropriate goals for theoretical history, they can practice their discipline responsibly and find meanings, if not a single meaning, in history.