Mechanisms, Causal Modeling, and the Limitations of Traditional Multiple Regression

Harold Kincaid

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392753
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Mechanisms, Causal Modeling, and the Limitations of Traditional Multiple Regression

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This article employs the causal modeling with directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) to demonstrate some circumstances where mechanisms are needed and not needed, and to give clear reasons why that is the case. In the process, it illustrates how standard regression practices in the social sciences can go wrong and how they can be improved. Additionally, the article presents some limitations of the DAG program in determining mechanisms in the social sciences. Arguments for mechanisms in the social sciences are often ill-defined in terms of which sort of mechanism they entail. DAGs can illustrate how mechanisms can be significant or essential, depending on whether establishing a causal relation or determining an effect size. Social causality is complex in ways that the DAG framework cannot easily handle, and other approaches or more nuanced DAG applications are called for.

Keywords: causal modeling; directed acyclic graphs; mechanisms; standard regression; social sciences; social causality

Article.  7614 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Metaphysics

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