Valid for What? On the Very Idea of Unconditional Validity

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 51 (2):151–175 (2021)
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What is a valid measuring instrument? Recent philosophy has attended to logic of justification of measures, such as construct validation, but not to the question of what it means for an instrument to be a valid measure of a construct. A prominent approach grounds validity in the existence of a causal link between the attribute and its detectable manifestations. Some of its proponents claim that, therefore, validity does not depend on pragmatics and research context. In this paper, I cast doubt on the possibility of a context-independent causal account of validity. I assess several versions, arguing that all of them fail to judge the validity of measuring instruments correctly. Because different research purposes require different properties from measuring instruments, no account of validity succeeds without referring to the specific research purpose that creates the need for measurement in the first place.
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Archival date: 2021-02-08
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