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Partial explanations in social science

Northcott, Robert (2012) Partial explanations in social science. Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science. pp. 130-153.


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How much was the increased murder rate explained by higher unemployment? What was the main cause of the American Civil War? Was it the penetrating offense or the stout defense that was most responsible for the football team’s victory? It is ubiquitous in social science and indeed everyday life that the causes we have identified explain some but not all of an outcome. In such cases, the question of critical interest is to quantify each cause’s contribution to the outcome. The focus is not on how general or deep or transportable a particular explanation or mechanism is, important though those concerns may also be, but rather is narrowly on how much a cause explains an effect in a particular one-off case. This is relevant historically to determine which factors explained an outcome most. It is also relevant as a guide to future intervention—which factors would influence an outcome most?

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Keywords: explanation; social science; causation
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Sociology
Depositing User: Dr Robert Northcott
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2018 17:07
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2018 17:07
Item ID: 15394
Journal or Publication Title: Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Sociology
Date: 2012
Page Range: pp. 130-153

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