Read e-book online Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the PDF

By Jon Elster

Publish 12 months note: First released January 1st 2000

An expanded and revised edition of the author's seriously acclaimed quantity Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. In twenty-six succinct chapters, Jon Elster offers an account of the character of clarification within the social sciences. He deals an outline of key explanatory mechanisms within the social sciences, counting on hundreds of thousands of examples and drawing on a wide number of resources - psychology, behavioral economics, biology, political technology, ancient writings, philosophy and fiction.

Written in obtainable and jargon-free language, Elster goals at accuracy and readability whereas eschewing formal types. In a provocative end, Elster defends the centrality of qualitative social sciences in a two-front struggle opposed to tender (literary) and tough (mathematical) types of obscurantism.

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Additional info for Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences (Revised Edition)

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It has been argued, for instance, that for every child who becomes alcoholic in response to an alcoholic environment, 4 To be sure, it is often said that the strength of altruistic feelings toward others varies inversely with their social distance from the agent. ’’ mechanisms 37 another eschews alcohol in response to the same environment. Both reactions embody mechanisms: doing what your parents do and doing the opposite of what they do. We cannot tell ahead of time what will become of the child of an alcoholic, but if he or she turns out either a teetotaler or an alcoholic we may suspect we know why.

The intellectual fallacy is to assume that a generalization valid for most cases is valid in each case. The moral fallacy is to treat an interlocutor as governed by biological mechanisms rather than as open to reason and argument. Although statistical explanations are always second best, in practice we may not be able to do any better. It is important to note, however, that they are inevitably guided by the first-best ideal of causal explanation. It appears to be a statistical fact that citizens in democracies live longer than citizens in nondemocratic regimes.

True, in many cases one and the same theory will enable us to do both, but I believe that in the social sciences this is the exception rather than the rule. 22 For instance, there is no plausible causal mechanism that should make us control for the population size of democratic and nondemocratic regimes. Although one cannot exclude a causal link between population size and average life span, social science has not established any such connection; nor can I imagine a noncontrived one. explanation 29 I postpone the main discussion of why we can have explanatory power without strong predictive power to the next chapter.

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