Page 67 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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those mechanisms that cause these phenomena as opposed to complete theoretical
descriptions that invoke laws of nature. This shift is important because much of the
supposed distinction between explanations of natural phenomena and of human action
depends upon the claim that natural phenomena, but not human actions, are law-
governed.”
We are not so sure.
When the methods of Science 1 are used by practitioners of Science 2, all too often a
false sense of certainty is declared that fails to match the underlying circumstances or
context. In explanation terms, the mistake can be described as one of ascribing a label
(attributing cause to category or structure) when identity is undetermined, uncertain, and
undefined (which instead suggests a need instead to identify mechanism or hypothetical
function). Only if one has well-earned confidence in one’s descriptors does it make sense to
use them to analyze a situation. Metaphors and analogies may be fascinating and tantalizing,
but they are very uncertain and questionable. If one wants to “model” a situation one needs to
be sure of the definitions, identities, and terms of use one is employing. No such epistemic
care is normal in the everyday worlds of business, government, or normal life. Labels are all
too quickly assumed to be accurate depictions of reality. As Kuhn (1962) put it: “You don’t
see something until you have the right metaphor [model] to let you perceive it.”
“The world is comprehensible, immediately endowed with meaning, because from the
very beginning, the body has been exposed to its regularities. Having thereby
acquired a system of dispositions that are coherent with these regularities, the body
finds itself predisposed and ready to anticipate them practically through behavior that
activates a type of knowledge through the body, which ensures practical knowledge of
the world.” (Bourdieu, 1997/2000)
Note, too, that causality in the social and environmental sciences is usually of the multiple
causes acting together in light of the occurrence or non-occurrence of contingencies. As the
Chicago Social Brain Network (2011) puts it: “The philosophy of science also looks different
when dealing with simple causality (one-to-one relations) than with complex causality.
Affirmation of the consequent, a logical error in which a given cause for an effect is inferred
based on the observation of the effect, does not lead to scientific error when there is but a
single cause for the observed effect.”
By making assumptions (and in so doing restricting ourselves to a set of labels and a
model), we pre-determine what might be learned, which will limit the options that appear to
be open to us. This is because by adopting a particular perspective, and therefore making
assumptions consistent with that perspective, we limit what we can “see.” The perspective
acts as a lens that only allows particular features to come into focus – all other features are
lost or assumed not to be relevant. Furthermore, in communicating with others, by making
use of a particular viewpoint, we limit our and their ability to “see” what is relevant. The
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