Article

Descriptive-Causal Generalizations: “Empirical Laws” in the Social Sciences?

Gary Goertz

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392753
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195392753.013.0005

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Descriptive-Causal Generalizations: “Empirical Laws” in the Social Sciences?

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This article argues that strong “descriptive-causal generalizations” are in fact quite common, at least compared to the standard belief of approximately zero. The philosophy of the special sciences has a great deal to present to those interested in empirical laws and strong generalizations in the social sciences. Social scientists do find and make strong, and empirically supported, causal generalizations. Descriptive-causal generalizations and perfect predictors are in fact the same phenomenon. It will be very hard to defeat the descriptive-causal generalizations using standard statistical strategies. A descriptive-causal generalization sometimes receives the name “empirical law.” The democratic peace is one of the most famous descriptive-causal generalizations in political science. The term “empirical law” indicates that there are multiple dimensions which scientists use to assess generalizations.

Keywords: descriptive-causal generalizations; special sciences; social scientists; standard statistical strategies; empirical law; democratic peace; political science

Article.  11112 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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