Causality and Persons

John Levi Martin

in The Explanation of Social Action

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199773312
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199897223 | DOI:
Causality and Persons

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Chapter 2 examines the current favored “third person” explanation in the social sciences, namely causality. The socials sciences currently agree that causality is king, and that the proper definition of causality requires a counterfactual definition. But such counterfactual approaches to causality, as is known to those who have the misfortune to study them most closely, are beset with paradoxes. The probabilism that we immediately wed to our causal statements, rather than solving these problems, multiplies them infinitely. There is another approach to causality, one that does not have these paradoxes, and it is one that relies on our first-person understandings as opposed to contravening them. Here the most central form of causation is the effective will of a person; this is applied in other cases analogically to things that thwart our will. This sort of causality makes sense, but it cannot be the foundation of a science that proposes explanations that compete with first-person answers. Yet in the social sciences we remain hesitant to accept such first person answers, because we believe that there is something less-than-solid about the connection between persons’ responses to Why questions and their actions that are to be explained. We are not wrong to be concerned about this connection, but the lack of adequacy has been on our side, not that of the laity.

Keywords: causality; necessity; counterfactual; probabilistic; common sense

Chapter.  26006 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

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