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At its most straightforward, a theory is an explanation proposed of a particular problem, and the test of it is whether the explanation holds up. A theoretic explanation of a social action is therefore, in common parlance or in academic history, a story about what is going on which seems to fit the facts and provide for our understanding of the events in question.

In the thirteenth century, an English Franciscan monk called William of Ockham enunciated his so-called ‘principle of parsimony’ (or ‘Ockham's razor’) according to which any explanation should ruthlessly cut away any superfluous detail and confine itself to the simplest and most reductive terms possible. This recommendation will hold good for all forms of explanation, whether in the human or natural sciences. ...

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