According to Carl Hempel in "The Function of General Laws in History" (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 39, No. 2, 1942, pp. 35-48), explanation in history consists of the "derivation of the explanandum from general laws." William Dray called this the "covering law model" of historical explanation. An event is explained when it is "covered" by some law or set of laws. Hempel describes the logical structure of the model as follows:
(1) a set of statements asserting the occurrence of certain events C1, ... Cn, at certain times and places,
(2) a set of universal hypotheses, such that
(a) the statements of both groups are reasonably well confirmed by empirical evidence,
(b) from the two groups of statements the sentence asserting the occurrence of event E can be logically deduced. (p. 36)
In Objectivity and Historical Understanding (pp. 131f), Andrew Beards wrote that
in the 1960s a number of philosophers writing on history opposed the Popper-Hempel view. [...] The opposition, led by William Dray, argued that history had more in common with the type of explanations that occur in ordinary discourse -- that history's concern was with particular narrative, rather than general laws.
Paul Ricoeur wrote that Hempel
does not take it as important, not to say decisive, that in history events get their properly historical status from having been initially included in an official chronicle, eyewitness testimony, or a narrative based on personal memories. The specificity of this first level of discourse is completely ignored in favor of a direct relationship between an individual event and the assertion of a universal hypothesis, therefore of some form of regularity. It is only owing to the subsequent discussion of the covering law model by upholders of the narrativist thesis that we can underscore the fact that, from the beginning of this analysis, the notion of a historical event was divested of its narrative status and placed within the framework of an opposition between particular and universal. (Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vol. 1, p. 112)
Ricoeur notes that
Apart from economics and demography, history contents itself with approximately universal hypotheses. We must place among such laws, whose verification is still too loose, all statements made in terms of probabilities, yet lacking any statistical framework. It is not their probabilistic status that is criticizable but their lack of statistical precision. In this respect, the boundary does not run between causal and probabilistic explanation but between levels of exactitude, whether this be empirical or statistical. (Ibid., p. 114)
Hempel vehemently refuses to accord any actual epistemological value to the procedures warranted by the terms empathy, understanding, or interpretation, which refer to such so-called distinctive features of the historical object as meaning, relevance, determination, or dependence. The alleged method of empathetic understanding is not a method. At most it is a heuristic procedure which is neither necessary nor sufficient, for it is possible to explain things in history without any empathetic understanding. Nothing in the construction of this model, therefore, refers to the narrative nature of history, or to the narrative status of events, much less to the particular specificity of historical time in relation to cosmological time. (Ibid., pp. 114f)
Is Hempel's analysis of explanation in history valid? If not, why not?