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Causality in the Sciences$
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Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo, and Jon Williamson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199574131

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574131.001.0001

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Causal mechanisms in the social realm

Causal mechanisms in the social realm

(p.273) 13 Causal mechanisms in the social realm
Causality in the Sciences

Daniel Little

Oxford University Press

The chapter considers the specific characteristics of causal relations among social structures, processes, and activities. Against the Humean idea that causal relations are defined by facts about regular succession, the chapter argues that the notion of a causal mechanism is fundamental. Causal realism asserts that causal connections between events and conditions are real and are conveyed by the powers and properties of entities. It is therefore necessary to consider the ontology of a given realm in order to be able to identify how mechanisms work in this realm. In the social realm causal mechanisms are constituted by the purposive actions of agents within constraints. Examples of social mechanisms are considered at several levels of detail, and more extended treatments are offered for transportation, violent crime, epidemiological processes, and system safety as examples of social domains where we can analyse underlying social mechanisms in order to understand the outcomes. The view de‐emphasizes the feasibility of strong predictions in the social sciences; even when we have good reason to expect that a given set of social mechanisms are at work, it is often impossible to aggregate their interactions with confidence.

Keywords:   causation, causal mechanism, causal realism, microfoundations, social ontology, methodological localism

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