Historians' Fallacies

From William A. Percy
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Historians' Fallacies
By David Hackett-Fischer

Of David's far-flung corpus, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington's Crossing, Historians' Fallacies particularly interests me. I'm surprised that he has not been hounded out of the profession, because in it he demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that so many of the most prominent historians have committed such gross fallacies of logic. But then again, in history as in law, rhetoric often prevails over reason. I wish only that David had included the Presumption of Heterosexuality among his fallacies. Even if a person is not married, biographers routinely presume exclusive heterosexuality, though aware of the famous examples of Oscar Wilde and Julius Caesar fathers both. It is as logically impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that George Washington ever had sex with a woman as it is to prove that Abraham Lincoln ever had sex with a man. Both of those presidents seem to have "indictable" cases, i.e., meriting further investigation. In law, cases are closed. Not so in history. The jury is still out and a verdict not soon forthcoming.

Posted 11-02-05

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