Causal Reasoning, Historical Logic, and Sociological Explanation

Lyn Spillman

in Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520241367
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937857 | DOI:
Causal Reasoning, Historical Logic, and Sociological Explanation

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This chapter elaborates on the multidimensional approach to beliefs. It suggests that Smelser's insistence on flow and process might be viewed as introducing a new and non-structural approach to cause and effect. Drawing on the recent philosophical developments of historical method, the chapter demonstrates that Smelser's value-added emphasis on contingency aimed not at static covering law but at colligation, which refers to an ambition to locate an event in a social process by specifying what led up to it and what it led to. These series of processual events are named by reference to an existing concept. Such contributions are less causal in the positivist sense than they are conceptual. They are built into explanations through the “parametric knowledge” which is one of the most ignored elements in social scientific thought. This chapter begins by examining the standard causal logic in sociology. It then outlines some alternative views of causal explanation in the philosophy of history. The chapter then articulates a more comprehensive understanding of causal explanation that could include nomothetic and ideographic inquiry in the same explanatory logic. To achieve focus of argument, the chapter examines reflections on causal explanation in historical and comparative sociology, beginning with Smelser's Comparative Methods in the Social Sciences.

Keywords: beliefs; cause and effect; parametric knowledge; causal logic; sociology; causal explanation; explanatory logic

Chapter.  7896 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

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