Notes on explanation: A. A base-line account of causality and explanation in the social sciences

July 1994 (Made during the preparation of Taylor, P. J. (1995). “Building on construction: An exploration of heterogeneous constructionism, using an analogy from psychology and a sketch from socio-economic modeling.” Perspectives on Science 3(1): 66-98.)

A.  A base-line account of causality and explanation in the social sciences

(Drawn from R. W. Miller, ‘Fact and method in the social sciences’, in R. Boyd, P. Gasper, and J. D. Trout (ed.), The philosophy of science  (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 743-762, which is reprinted with revisions from D. Sabia and J. Wallulis (ed.), Changing social science  (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 73-101.)

1.  An adequate explanation is a true description of underlying causal factors sufficient to bring about the phenomenon in question.

2.  Causal factors are things necessary, given the circumstances at hand, to the phenomenon, that is, something else would have happened without the factor.

3.  Scholarly (or other) communities follow rules about the kinds and number of causal factors to be distinguished as against consigned to the background “circumstances at hand.”  These rules are subject to theoretical and empirical debate, and can be rejected in favor of another set of rules if practice guided by them is an inferior source of explanations for other phenomena (p. 757).

4.  The hermeneutic criteria for explanation, namely, that explanation enhances the reader’s “capacity to interpret the words, acts, and symbols of others in the interest of mutual understanding, and self-reflection” (p. 751), should not be applied.

5.  Singular explanations are acceptable: A causal factor in one situation need not have the same effect in all other situations or even in any other situation.  In other words causal factors do not have to be construable in terms of implicit covering laws or statistical regularities.

(A series of modifications to the base-line are presented in the next post.)

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2 thoughts on “Notes on explanation: A. A base-line account of causality and explanation in the social sciences

  1. Pingback: Notes on explanation: B. A series of modifications to the base-line « Intersecting Processes

  2. Pingback: Notes on explanation: C. Extensions « Intersecting Processes

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