Do Historians Study the Mechanisms of History? A Sketch

In this exploratory sketch, I move across the boundaries of philosophy of historiography to social science and its philosophy. If we want to answer the central question of this chapter, we need to know what types of scientific problems historians are interested in, what history is, and what mechanisms are. I sketch the most prominent theories of social mechanisms in the context of wider ontological approaches. I investigate Mario Bunge’s “Emergentist Systemism,” “Critical Realism” in the tradition of Roy Bhaskar’s influential philosophy, and Daniel Little’s “Methodological Localism.” Since it turns out that mechanisms are taken to be rather different entities, the question is only answered trivially, but some problems are suggested that need to be separated if the debate shall not end up in “mechanism talk.” It is also suggested that philosophers of historiography can find in these debates what they are normally not interested in, that is, science-oriented philosophy of history.