Induction, Experimentation and Causation in the Social Sciences

Philosophies 6 (4):105 (2021)
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Abstract

Inductive thinking is a universal human habit; we generalise from our experiences the best we can. The induction problem is to identify which observed regularities provide reasonable justification for inductive conclusions. In the natural sciences, we can often use strict laws in making successful inferences about unobserved states of affairs. In the social sciences, by contrast, we have no strict laws, only regularities which most often are conditioned on ceteris paribus clauses. This makes it much more difficult to make reliable inferences in the social sciences. In particular, we want knowledge about general causal relations in order to be able to determine what to do in order to achieve a certain state of affairs. Knowledge about causal relations that are also valid in the future requires experiments or so called ‘natural experiments’. Only knowledge derived from such experiences enable us to draw reasonably reliable inferences about how to act in order to achieve our goals.

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Lars-Göran Johansson
Uppsala University

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