Methods of causal inquiry

This diagram provides a map of an extensive set of methods of causal inquiry in the social sciences. The goal here is to show that the many approaches that social scientists have taken to discovering causal relationships have an underlying order, and they can be related to a small number of ontological ideas about social …

Downward causation

I've argued for the idea that social phenomena are generated by the actions, thoughts, and mental frameworks of myriad actors (link). This expresses the idea of ontological individualism. But I also believe that social arrangements -- structures, ideologies, institutions -- have genuine effects on the actions of individual actors and populations of actors and on …

Is history probabilistic?

Many of our intuitions about causality are driven by a background assumption of determinism: one cause, one effect, always. But it is evident in many realms -- including especially the social world -- that causation is probabilistic. A cause makes its effects more likely than they would be in the absence of the cause. Exposure …

Microfoundations and causal powers

Image: Three Mile Island control room   There isn't a lot of cross-over between the microfoundations literature (Peter Hedstrom, Dissecting the Social: On the Principles of Analytical Sociology) and the causal-powers literature (Greco and Groff, Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism). People who advocate the importance of microfoundations in the social sciences are …

A short course in critical causality

For anyone interested in getting a deep exposure to current thinking about causation within the critical realist tradition, Ruth Groff's 2008 collection Revitalizing Causality: Realism about Causality in Philosophy and Social Science is a very good place to start. It begins with classic essays by Roy Wood Sellars from 1929 and 1943 -- long before the …

Sellars and Bhaskar

Robert Brandom has just published a highly interesting book about the coherence of the philosophical thought of Wilfrid Sellars, From Empiricism to Expressivism: Brandom Reads Sellars. In reading the book I am brought back repeatedly to thinking about Roy Bhaskar. There is the affirmation of scientific realism that both endorse; there is the appeal to …

Social structures as entities

  Image: first organizational chart (link)   One mark of modernity is the fact that we swim in a sea of structures -- states, markets, militaries, employment systems, social networks, taxation systems, and systems of racial and gender disadvantage, to name several. In place of a perhaps mythical pre-modern society in which social life was …

Heterogeneity according to Cartwright

  Nancy Cartwright is one of the best philosophers of science around, in many people's opinion. I find her work particularly interesting for the new ways she offers of thinking about old ideas like "laws of nature" and the ways things work in the natural world. Much of what she writes about the entities and …

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 …

Naturalizing causal powers

Several earlier posts have considered Tuukka Kaidesoja's very interesting recent book, Naturalizing Critical Realist Social Ontology (NCR). The book is an important contribution to the evolving literature on next steps for critical realism, and TK is an exceptionally clear and perceptive philosopher. Here I will focus on Tuuka's contribution to the causal powers literature. The topic …

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