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Causal Mechanisms: Lessons from the Life Sciences

  • Philip S. GorskiEmail author
Part of the Social Morphogenesis book series (SOCMOR)

Abstract

This paper reviews recent scholarship on causal mechanisms in both the social and biological sciences. It does so with a particular focus on North America and from the perspective of critical realism. It identifies four conceptions of causal mechanisms within the social sciences: mainstream, analytical, counterfactual and neo-pragmatist. It argues that none are fully realist or sufficiently critical because all are influenced by a physicalist ontology characterized by ‘smallism’ and actualism. It then turns to recent work in the philosophy of biology, focusing in particular on the Chicago School around William Wimsatt. I argue that biological explanation cannot be adequately accounted for in physicalist terms. I conclude with critical reflections on the continuing influence of physicalism, even within critical realism, and on the disanalogies between the biological and social sciences.

Keywords

Physicalism Smallism Imaginary Causal powers Aristotle 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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