What does it mean to say that X caused Y? How do philosophical ideas of causation relate to the practice of social science, and vice versa? We discussed such questions in a day-long symposium in the Department of Political Economy (DPE) at King’s College London on Saturday April 30th. The event was organised by DPE PhD students Irena Schneider and Matías Peterson. In attendance were PhD students studying political economy, political science, political theory, philosophy, and economic history, from KCL, UCL and the LSE. I chaired the event, which was kindly funded by the King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (KISS-DTC).
A key insight was that we can easily be the slaves of an idea of causation if we do not think about ideas of causation – and that means ideas, plural. There are several different ideas of causation, each of which has weaknesses. And different social-science methods sometimes use different ideas of causation. If we knew more about different ideas of causation, we might not be so quick to reject some social-science methods.
We read the following texts:
Session 1, 10am-11:30am
Philosophical notions of causation
- Mumford, Stephen and Rani Lill Anjum (2013). Causation: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1-84.
Singular versus general causation
- Hitchcock, Christopher (1995). “The mishap at Reichenbach fall: singular vs. general causation”, Philosophical Studies 78.
Session 2, 12pm-1:30pm
What can a statistical model say about causation?
- Holland, Paul (1986). “Statistics and Causal Inference”, Journal of the American Statistical Association 81 (396).
- Pearl, Judea (2012). “The causal foundations of structural equation modeling”, in Handbook of structural equation modeling, ed. Rick H. Hoyle.
Session 3, 3pm-5pm
What can qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) say about causation?
- Lucas and Szatrowski (2014). “Qualitative comparative analysis in critical perspective”, Sociological Methodology 44.
- Ragin, Charles (2014). “Comment: Lucas and Szatrowski in critical perspective”, Sociological Methodology 44.