Little, Daniel. 2012. More challenges for social mechanisms: Contribution to the Persson-Chuang discussion. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (9): 28-32
Please refer to:
- Persson, Johannes. 2012. Mechanistic explanation in social contexts: Elster and the problem of local scientific growth. Social Epistemology 26 (1): 105-114.
- Little, Daniel. 2012. Social mechanisms and scientific realism: Discussion of “Mechanistic explanation in social contexts” by Johannes Persson. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (3) 1-5.
- Persson, Johannes. 2012. Social laws should be conceived as a special case of mechanisms: A reply to Daniel Little. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (7): 12-14.
- Chuang, Kimberly. 2012. In defense of Elster’s mechanisms. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (9): 1-19.
The extended discussion stimulated by Johannes Persson’s (2012a) critique of Elster’s definition of causal mechanisms in this forum is a valuable one. Anyone interested in causal mechanisms theory will be appreciative of the thoughtful contributions offered by Persson (2012b) and Kimberly Chuang (2012).
The core of Persson’s critique is that Elster appears to define a causal mechanism in a way that incorporates the idea of unknown triggers or indeterminate outcomes as a part of the definition. Persson finds fault with this approach on the ground that it implies that when we gain more knowledge about how a mechanism M works, M is no longer a mechanism (because its trigger or outcomes are no longer unknown). This is deeply counterintuitive: more knowledge produces less explanatory power.
Kimberly Chuang thinks there is a flaw in Persson’s argument against Elster. She provides a careful exegesis of what Elster might have meant with his original specification of causal mechanisms as well as a sustained argument intended to show that Persson’s arguments fail. Her argument is complex, but it comes down to the claim that the examples Persson provides are actually specifications of particular (local) triggers rather than general triggers. So the item remains a causal mechanism after all — against Persson’s conclusion. This is the thrust of her claim that “Persson’s argument inappropriately overlooks the difference between applications of mechanisms rather than mechanisms themselves” (2012: 2). Continue Reading…