Thinking about pandemic models

One thing that is clear from the pandemic crisis that is shaking the world is the crucial need we have for models that allow us to estimate the future behavior of the epidemic. The dynamics of the spread of an epidemic are simply not amenable to intuitive estimation. So it is critical to have computational …

New thinking about causal mechanisms

Anyone interested in the topic of causal mechanisms will be interested in the appearance of Stuart Glennan and Phyllis Illari's The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanical Philosophy. Both Glennan and Illari have been significant contributors to the past fifteen years of discussion about the role of mechanisms in scientific explanation, and the Handbook is …

George and Bennett on case study methodology

  Establishing causal relationships within the fabric of the social world is more challenging than in the biological or physical-chemical domains. The reasons for this difficulty are familiar — the high degree of contextuality and contingency that is characteristic of social change, the non-deterministic character of social causation, and the fact that most social outcomes …

Mechanisms thinking in international relations theory

source: Alex Cooley, "America and Empire" (link) One of the most fundamental ideas underlying the philosophy of social science expressed here and elsewhere is the view that social explanations should seek out the causal mechanisms that underly the social phenomena of interest. So now we need to be able to say a lot more about …

Are there meso-level social mechanisms?

It is fairly well accepted that there are social mechanisms underlying various patterns of the social world — free-rider problems, communications networks, etc. But the examples that come readily to mind are generally specified at the level of individuals. The new institutionalists, for example, describe numerous social mechanisms that explain social outcomes; but these mechanisms …

A causal narrative?

source: Edward Tufte, edwardtufte.com In a recent post I referred to the idea of a causal narrative (link). Here I would like to sketch out what I had in mind there. Essentially the idea is that a causal narrative of a complicated outcome or occurrence is an orderly analysis of the sequence of events and …

“How does it work” questions

Source: Karl Ove Moene in Alternatives to Capitalism, p. 85 One of the strengths of the causal-mechanisms approach to social explanation is how it responds to a very fundamental aspect of what we want explanations to do: we want to understand how something works. And a mechanisms account answers that question. Let’s consider an example …

Mechanisms and powers

source: William Bechtel, Discovering Cell Mechanisms: The Creation of Modern Cell Biology The causal-powers approach to the understanding of causation is sometimes presented as an exclusive alternative to both traditional regularity theories and to more recent causal mechanism theories. In an earlier post I discussed Ruth Groff’s contributions to this topic. Here I would like …

Causal powers from a metaphysical point of view

A number of scholars who are interested in causation have recently expressed new interest in the concept of causal powers. This makes sense in a very straightforward and commonsensical way. But it also raises some difficult questions about metaphysics: how are we to think about the underlying nature of reality such that things, events, or …

Causal concepts

source: D. Little, “Causal Explanation in the Social Sciences,” Southern Journal of Philosophy (1995) (link) It may be useful to provide a brief account of some of the key ideas that are often invoked in causal explanations in the social sciences. (Here is an earlier post that summarized some current issues in causation research; link. And …

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