Symposium on explanations and social ontology 3: Can we dispense with structural explanations of social facts?

Economics and Philosophy 18 (2):259-275 (2002)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Some social scientists and philosophers (e.g., James Coleman and Jon Elster) claim that all social facts are best explained by means of a micro-explanation. They defend a micro-reductionism in the social sciences: to explain is to provide a mechanism on the individual level. The first aim of this paper is to challenge this view and defend the view that it has to be substituted for an explanatory pluralism with two components: (1) structural explanations of P-, O- and T-contrasts between social facts are more efficient than the competing micro-explanations; and (2) whether a plain social fact (as opposed to a contrast) is best explained in a micro-explanation or a structural explanation depends on the explanatory interest. The second aim of the paper is to show how this explanatory pluralism is compatible with ontological individualism. This paper is motivated by our conviction that explanatory pluralism as defended by Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit is on the right track, but must be further elaborated. We want to supplement their contribution, by (1) introducing the difference between explanations of facts and explanations of contrasts; (2) giving examples from the social sciences, instead of mainly from the natural sciences or common sense knowledge; and (3) emphasizing the pragmatic relevance of explanations on different levels –social, psychological, biological, etc. – which is insufficiently done by Jackson and Pettit.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 79,702

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

A modest proposal for interpreting structural explanations.Mariam Thalos - 1998 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49 (2):279-295.
Intentionalistic explanations in the social sciences.John R. Searle - 1991 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 21 (3):332-344.
Indispensability arguments in favour of reductive explanations.Jeroen Van Bouwel, Erik Weber & Leen De Vreese - 2011 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 42 (1):33-46.


Added to PP

73 (#175,367)

6 months
7 (#129,163)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author Profiles

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references