During the past decade, social mechanisms and mechanism-based ex- planations have received considerable attention in the social sciences as well as in the philosophy of science. This article critically reviews the most important philosophical and social science contributions to the mechanism approach. The first part discusses the idea of mechanism- based explanation from the point of view of philosophy of science and relates it to causation and to the covering-law account of explanation. The second part focuses on how the idea (...) of mechanisms has been used in the social sciences. The final part discusses recent developments in analytical sociology, covering the nature of sociological explananda, the role of theory of action in mechanism-based explanations, Merton’s idea of middle-range theory, and the role of agent-based simulations in the development of mechanism-based explanations. (shrink)
Many of the arguments for neuroeconomics rely on mistaken assumptions about criteria of explanatory relevance across disciplinary boundaries and fail to distinguish between evidential and explanatory relevance. Building on recent philosophical work on mechanistic research programmes and the contrastive counterfactual theory of explanation, we argue that explaining an explanatory presupposition or providing a lower-level explanation does not necessarily constitute explanatory improvement. Neuroscientific findings have explanatory relevance only when they inform a causal and explanatory account of the psychology of human decision-making.
Comparisons of rival explanations or theories often involve vague appeals to explanatory power. In this paper, we dissect this metaphor by distinguishing between different dimensions of the goodness of an explanation: non-sensitivity, cognitive salience, precision, factual accuracy and degree of integration. These dimensions are partially independent and often come into conflict. Our main contribution is to go beyond simple stipulation or description by explicating why these factors are taken to be explanatory virtues. We accomplish this by using the contrastive-counterfactual approach (...) to explanation and the view of understanding as an inferential ability. By combining these perspectives, we show how the explanatory power of an explanation in a given dimension can be assessed by showing the range of answers it provides to what-if-things-had-been-different questions and the theoretical and pragmatic importance of these questions. Our account also explains intuitions linking explanation to unification or to exhibition of a mechanism. (shrink)
This paper is an attempt to further our understanding of mechanisms conceived of as ontologically separable from laws. What opportunities are there for a mechanistic perspective to be independent of, or even more fundamental than, a law perspective? Advocates of the mechanistic view often play with the possibility of internal and external reliability, or with the paralleling possibilities of enforcing, counteracting, redirecting, etc., the mechanisms’ power to produce To further this discussion I adopt a trope ontology. It is independent of (...) the notion of law, and can easily be adapted to account for such characteristics of mechanisms. The idea of tropes as mechanisms is worked out in some detail. According to the resulting picture, there is still an opportunity to link mechanisms and laws. But while the predominant law view conceives of mechanistic approaches as special kinds of law accounts, this study indicates that the converse may be true. Law accounts are special cases of mechanistic accounts, and they work only in those worlds where the mechanisms are of the right kind. (shrink)
This paper provides a conceptual analysis of the notion of interests as it is used in the social studies of science. After describing the theoretical background behind the Strong Program's adoption of the concept of interest, the paper outlines a reconstruction of the everyday notion of interest and argues that this same notion is used also by the sociologists of scientific knowledge. However, there are a couple of important differences between the everyday use of this notion and the way in (...) which it used by the sociologists. The sociologists do not use the term in evaluative context and they do not regard interests as purely non-epistemic factors. Finally, it is argued that most of the usual critiques of interest explanations, by both philosophers and fellow sociologists, are misguided. (shrink)
Realism in Action is a selection of essays written by leading representatives in the fields of action theory and philosophy of mind, philosophy of the social sciences and especially the nature of social action, and of epistemology and philosophy of science. Practical reason, reasons and causes in action theory, intending and trying, and folk-psychological explanation are some of the topics discussed by these leading participants. A particular emphasis is laid on trust, commitments and social institutions, on the possibility of grounding (...) social notions in individual social attitudes, on the nature of social groups, institutions and collective intentionality, and on common belief and common knowledge. Applications to the social sciences include, e.g., a look at the Erklären-Verstehen controversy in economics, and at constructivist and realist views on archeological reconstructions of the past. (shrink)
This paper discusses Stephen Turner’s recent critique of theories of social practices. It shows that his arguments are valid against common explanatory uses of these concepts, but not against practices in general. There are plenty of legitimate non-explanatory uses for practice concepts. The paper also suggests that Turner’s main arguments derive from two principles that have much wider application than practice theories. Consequently, they should be considered as general constraints on every social theory.