Explanations of social phenomena: Competing and complementary accounts

Metaphilosophy 39 (4-5):621-650 (2008)
Abstract: Situations that social scientists and others explain by using concepts like "custom" and "norm" often tend to be situations in which many other kinds of explanations (for example, biological, psychological, economic, historical) seem plausible as well. Do these other explanations compete with the custom or norm explanations, or do they complement them? We need to consider this question carefully and not just assume that various accounts are all permissible at different levels of analysis. In this article I describe two families of noncompeting accounts: (1) explanations of different (but similarly described) facts, and (2) accounts that seem to differ but are really different parts or versions of the same underlying explanation. I argue that while many types of apparent competitors don't really compete with norms, there are usually some that do. These competing accounts will usually undermine the norm account.
Keywords levels  custom  disjunction  social science  norm  causation  explanation
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9973.2008.00569.x
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