Respect for Subjects in the Ethics of Causal and Interpretive Social Explanation

American Political Science Review (forthcoming)
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Rival causal and interpretive approaches to explaining social phenomena have important ethical differences. While human actions can be explained as a result of causal mechanisms, as a meaningful choice based on reasons, or as some combination of the two, it is morally important that social scientists respect others by recognizing them as persons. Interpretive explanations directly respect their subjects in this way, while purely causal explanations do not. Yet although causal explanations are not themselves expressions of respect, they can be used in respectful ways if they are incorporated into subjects’ self-directed projects. This can occur when subjects correctly understand and freely adopt researchers’ goals through a process of informed consent. It can also occur when researchers correctly understand and adopt their subject’s goals, using their research to empower those they study.

Author's Profile

Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia


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