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Quote for Today: Historical criteria do not fall from the sky

Tristan Casabianca in a comment yesterday wrote:

Ockham’s razor (criterion of simplicity) is not at all the main weapon in the hands of historians and philosophers. For sure, it is the most popular, the most discussed, but not the most important.

From my article published last year in the Heythrop Journal (“The Shroud of Turin: A Historiographical Approach”):

Historical criteria do not fall from the sky; they are part of a slowly-built-up methodology routinely used by historians, whatever may be their opinion on the subject being discussed. This article will use criteria specified by Christopher Behan McCullagh. One can list these in order of priority from the most important to the least; this list, while not written in stone, provides a general idea of the most important conditions to satisfy. Thus one has: 1) plausibility: does our knowledge in other well-known fields support or reinforce the hypothesis? 2) Explanatory scope: can the hypothesis do justice to all the facts? 3) Explanatory power: the hypothesis has to be specific and accurate, rather than ambiguous. 4) Less ad hoc: ceteris paribus, the hypothesis should not invoke or rely on unverified data (this includes the criterion of simplicity). 5) Illumination: does the hypothesis shed light on other widely accepted phenomena? This last criterion was added by Licona who believes it contributes further specification.

It was published in the May 2013 edition of the Heythrop Journal (Volume 54, Issue 3). You can access the article if you have institutional or societal privileges. You can rent it for forty-eight hours for $6.00, read the cloud copy for $15.00 or buy the PDF file with full retention and printing privileges for $35.00.

OR, FOR FREE you can read, save and print a not-quite-final version found at

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