Historical reasoning, using analogies and references to the past, may be the most common form of human reasoning. This course studies several kinds of historical reasoning, illustrating common strengths and weaknesses, especially when such reasoning is used for decisionmaking in public life.
The course can thus introduce graduate and select advanced undergraduate students to different historical approaches, a few issues in the philosophy of history, and the close relation of such reasoning to the way questions are answered in fields like economics, law, and public policy. Throughout the emphasis is to help students reflect upon and improve the quality of their thought in practical situations.
The course is an adaptation of one I taught at Harvard during most of the 1990s, where I co-taught it with my late colleagues Ernest May and Richard Neustadt. There it was usually taught at the graduate level, though in a venue (Harvard’s Kennedy School) also open to students from the professional schools. This is the first time it has been offered at Virginia.
Class size is limited and the course will be taught as a mixture of lecture and discussion. Grades will be based mainly on several short papers and on class participation. Required texts will include Richard Neustadt & Ernest May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers and a variety of case studies, book excerpts, and articles.