Gary John Previts, President THE ACADEMY OF ACCOUNTING HISTORIANS
FOR EXAMPLE ... THE VALUE OF PRETENDING
Communicating analytical and explanative notions via examples is largely dependent upon characterizations of popular knowledge. Something is said to be "hard as a rock" or "cold as ice." Such analogies are but one of the important ways of conveying "mean-ing" in an expression. Analogies are a pretense. Other forms of communicative pretending include the type of calculation which accountants undertake to "pro forma" financial statements in order to bring about results "as if" certain circumstances would have oc-curred. "As if" techniques are also used in history via "counter-factual" analysis or as critics call it, "iffy" history. Counterfactual hypotheses have been used by economic historians to attempt to identify important variables in the predominant trade models of the past. A favorite slant is to inquire: "Would there have been signifi-cant westward expansion in the 1870-1890 era if transportation capabilities were limited to horse drawn vehicles and river trans-port—i.e., railroads were absent?" Of course, debate over such a premise can well be without end. Yet if carefully used in balance with other forms of historical research, counterfactual analysis can train the inquirer to better discern key elements in the environment. Such discrimination adds to the appreciation of the interdependence of the human and random factors which influence progress.
What would accounting historians learn from an inquiry which asked: "Would a CPA profession exist today if accounting leaders at the turn of the century had not secured legal recognition and statutory protection?" How much more would we appreciate the complexities of our current and past evolution as the result of such an investigation? A useful pretense? Perhaps.
There are more common means of pretending used in our day to day dealings, of course. Accounting and economic theorists place heavy burdens on the pretenses of ceterus paribus (other things being equal) and mutatis mutandis (with the necessary changes) such that anyone not fully alert to the significance of these nota-tions is likely to be unaware of the intended meaning of the passage encompassed by them.