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Causality, teleology and explanation in social sciences

Crespo, Ricardo F.

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Ricardo F. Crespo


Causality and explanation are hot topics in the contemporary philosophy of natural and social sciences. The dissatisfaction with some “classical” accounts of scientific explanation (such as the deductive-nomological or covering law model, or the inductive and deductive statistical explanation) leads philosophers of science to probe the possibilities of causal explanations. However, instead of unanimous notions on causation and explanation, a plethora of concepts emerged.2 This paper argues that four analytical levels may be found in social sciences, including economics –namely, a) a statistical descriptive level, b) a causal explanatory level, c) a teleological explicative level and d) a prescriptive teleological level. Social sciences ordinarily only consider levels a) and b). The exclusion of level c) may lead to viewing behaviors that do not respect theories such as the rational choice theory or the expected utility theory –theories which adopt “instrumental rationality”— as “anomalies”. Including level c) entails factoring “practical rationality” in and makes those anomalies reasonable. Once level c) is included, level d) “automatically” applies. For reasons that will become clear as this paper unfolds, this analysis adopts Aristotle’s notions on causality, teleology and practical reason as a theoretical framework. For the sake of the proposal outlined here, it is convenient to preserve Aristotle’s notions in their original form, avoiding the changes introduced in modern times. The first section introduces the Aristotelian notions of causality and teleology, while the second section explores contemporary views on them. The third section discusses the four analytical levels of social sciences, relying on Carl Menger’s classification of economic disciplines in the case of economics.


Crespo, R. F. (2016). Causality, teleology and explanation in social sciences

Publication Date 2016-02
Deposit Date Oct 13, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 13, 2016
Series Title CHESS Working Papers
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