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Causal Explanations of Behavior

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Most discussions of causal explanations of behavior focus on the problem of whether it makes sense to regard reasons as causes of human behavior, whether there can be laws connecting reasons with behavior, and the like. This essay discusses explanations of human behavior that do not appeal to reasons. Such explanations can be found in several areas of the social sciences. Moreover, these explanations are both causal and non-reductionist. Historical linguists, for example, offer causal explanations of changes in how words are pronounced—and linguistic change in general—without appealing to human intentions. I use examples from linguistics, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology to discuss the importance of this sort of explanation and to examine its compatibility with recent philosophical accounts of causation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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An earlier version of this work was presented at a conference on varieties of scientific explanation, with a focus on the contributions of Wesley C. Salmon, held at Universidade da Coruña. That paper was published under the title “La explicacion causal en las Ciencias Sociales” in Diversidad de la Explicacion Cientifica, Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, S.A. I am grateful to Wenceslao J. Gonzalez, who organized the conference and edited the volume. I also want to thank this journal's anonymous referee for very useful comments.


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