We collect data or events from past in history. IS it inductive or abductive reasoning ?

In many books (eg. 48 laws of power by Robert Greene) and many other books people state laws by citing events and incidents from history .Is is OK to state it as a law ?

In todays context like war between israel and Palestine can we say that "We learn from history that we can't learn anything from history"

  • If only one person, applying a single method, would have observed and written all history, perhaps this could be answered. But history is a collection of millions of facts, that has been transmitted by millions, written by other millions, collected by other millions using thousands of methods, etc. It's difficult to classify. We can't even say if some old fact is true or false.
    – RodolfoAP
    Aug 26 at 17:25
  • When "learning history" is no more than reading books about history, then this learning is arguably deductive, an attempt to work out the mere consistency of various reports and analyses. But there are other methods, like evaluating centuries-past demographic claims by judging the agricultural yield of regional soil distributions to see if the area would at the time have been able to support the claimed population. This is arguably a bit inductive and a bit abductive (the ceteris paribus clause being something like "as long as they didn't have a statistically unlikely food source"). Aug 26 at 18:25
  • History is about facts, not about "general laws". Aug 26 at 18:28
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA does history repeat itself
    – quanity
    Aug 27 at 0:23
  • I mean laws like Newton's laws that allow us to describe facts and predict new ones, in addition to produce them, like space rockets. With the "law" above, how many new wars has been predicted? Aug 27 at 7:24

3 Answers 3


The short answer is that historians are happy to use either inductive or abductive reasoning, as appropriate to the task in hand. I don't suppose they would hesitate to use deductive reasoning, either, if that would be helpful in a specific situation. History is a messy and complicated business.

One complication is that there are two different interpretations of what "data" means in the context of history. In one sense, "data" means the traces of the past that we find in the present. There several different kinds of data that are available. (See the first paragraph of the quotation below). From these, we can establish, in more or less detail, what happened and when and what contemporaries thought about it. This then becomes information to be interpreted so that an account that makes sense to us now can be developed - and interpretation is an approach that does not readily fall under any of the kinds of reasoning usually recognized in philosophy. But it is not, IMO, irrational.

The most helpful approach is to look at what historians say about history. For example, here's an extract from Wikipedia - History:-

"History" is an umbrella term comprising past events as well as the memory, discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of these events. Historians seek knowledge of the past using historical sources such as written documents, oral accounts, art and material artifacts, and ecological markers. History is incomplete and still has debatable mysteries.

History is an academic discipline which uses a narrative to describe, examine, question, and analyze past events, and investigate their patterns of cause and effect. Historians debate which narrative best explains an event, as well as the significance of different causes and effects. Historians debate the nature of history as an end in itself, and its usefulness in giving perspective on the problems of the present.

Note that the key result of historical enquiry is a narrative, which is quite unlike a scientific theory. A narrative deals with specific events and does not attempt to generalize. Generalization is the heart of a scientific theory.

Note that "cause and effect" here does not necessarily have the same meaning as it does in science, because we are (mostly) dealing with the actions of people, rather than the reactions of things.

You will find a range of different views about history at:- History Today website

The study of how history has been written in the past and, indeed, in the present, is called Historiography. See Wikipedia - Historiography

Added comment on the idea of laws of history

The very idea that history produces laws comparable to scientific laws is highly contested. See, for example, Wikipedia - Historicism The truth, I think, is neatly captured by the well-known saying that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. (This is often attributed to Mark Twain. This link to quoteinvestigator has more details.)


We definitely learn from history. Some people forget it , some remember. Learning can be both inductive and abductive.

Another name for abductive reasoning can be fuzzy reasoning and it can be used to generate thumb rules. Example of a thumb rule would be :It takes 3 years time to make a profit if you start a new business in India.

We arrived at the thumb rule by remembering the history and applying abductive or fuzzy reasoning.

There are well known examples of inductive reasoning so I will not go into that.

History repeats itself , I am fairly sure.


A good analysis of this question can be found in Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper. Historicism refers to the theory that history follows general laws, similarly to natural sciences. The author shows convincingly that it does not: history is made by men and women, not by laws.

For instance, and somewhat amusingly, historicist theories have been published, and thus became history (they are part of the history of historical ideas). Moreover, some of them became widely influential, eg Marxism, so the theory itself influenced history, because some folks believed in it and either tried to hasten its predictions or to prevent them. This is clearly the case with Marxism: the theory of class struggle made history by pretending to foretell it.

Therefore, historicist theories and their "laws" are themselves part of history and making history. This is very different from natural sciences; I mean, birds are not influenced by ornithology, are they?

This reflexive nature of history (with historians influencing or at least trying to influence the very societies they describe) is typical of human sciences. History, like sociology, is inherently political, in a way that physics or chemistry are not. And at the root of history as a systematic science, lies this very desire to learn from history, so as to avoid repeating it. ("Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it", said some guy).

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