Functional explanation, consequence explanation, and marxism

Inquiry 25 (1):27 – 56 (1982)
I argued in Karl Marx's Theory of History that the central claims of historical materialism are functional explanations, and I said that functional explanations are consequence explanations, ones, that is, in which something is explained by its propensity to have a certain kind of effect. I also claimed that the theory of chance variation and natural selection sustains functional explanations, and hence consequence explanations, of organismic equipment. In Section I I defend the thesis that historical materialism offers functional or consequence explanations, and I reject Jon Elster's contention that game theory can, and should, assume a central role in the Marxist theory of society. In Section II I contrast functional and consequence explanation, thereby revising the position of Karl Marx's Theory of History, and I question whether evolutionary biology supports functional explanations. Section III is a critique of Elster's views on functional explanation, and Sections IV and V defend consequence explanation against metaphysical and epistemological doubts. A concluding section summarizes my present understanding of the status of historical materialist explanations
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DOI 10.1080/00201748208601953
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