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  • 1. Functions and Mechanisms inStructural-Modelling Explanations Federica Russo Philosophy, Kent Joint work with Michel Mouchart and Guillaume Wunsch
  • 2. OverviewStructural-Modelling Explanations The methodology The recursive decompositionExplanation and Mechanisms Why mechanisms explain Social mechanisms and recursive decompositionsFunctions and Mechanisms Role-functions and isolated descriptions Functional architectures Functions in S-M explanations
  • 3. STRUCTURAL-MODELLINGEXPLANATIONS
  • 4. Why do people drink?Balts drink because it relieves stressBritish drink to socialiseMediterranean drink to accompany a lavish meal…
  • 5. Self-rated health in the Baltic countries, 1994-99
  • 6. A step-wise methodology Identify the1. Formulate the causal hypothesis research question; conceptual variables;2. Build the statistical model indicators; …3. Test the model Conditional independence properties; invariance; exogeneity; …4. Check congruence of results with background knowledge Do results make sense? Do they feed further research? …
  • 7. What are the causes of self-rated health in the Baltic countries in the ‘90s?Take the joint probability distribution + Make assumptions P(Education, Locus of Control, Physical Health, …, Self-Rated Health) P(X1, X1, X3, …Y) perform a recursive decomposition of the type P(Y)= P(X1) P(X3) P(X2|X3) … P(Y|X2, X3)Read as: Self-Rated Health depends on Education; on Locus of Control through Psychological distress; on Alcohol Consumption which also depends on Physical Health; … 7
  • 8. Here, explanation is mechanistic explanationMechanistic explanation is successful insofar asit spells out the functioning of the mechanismSpelling out the functioning of the mechanism meansidentifying the causes, their actions, and their effectsYes indeed, we’re more epistemic than ontic.
  • 9. Social mechanisms may be decomposedAccording to analytical sociologists, Little, Russo, ...social mechanisms: A plausible account of how change in social processes is brought about through sequences of cause and effect relations That is … a recursive decomposition
  • 10. Different mechanisms may explaina same phenomenon Different causes for a same effectWe can’t represent all mechanismsby a recursive decomposition Photosynthesis, for instance?Not all models are explanatory Better projections are based on associations
  • 11. The function-ing of the mechanism does the explanatory job.Causal variables are included because of their function in the mechanism.
  • 12. FUNCTIONS AND MECHANISMS
  • 13. Functions and functionsThe function of the mechanism Role-function (Cummins) Isolated description (Craver)The function of the components of the mechanism Role-function
  • 14. Functions in functional architectures1. Observe properties of a social system2. Infer the functional structure3. Work out the causal mechanism (based on 2)4. Confirm 2 based on 3
  • 15. Functional architectureEmpirical researchCausal mechanism
  • 16. Functions in S-M explanationsFunctions are role-functions For the mechanism and for its componentsFunctions help build the conceptual model They are the theoretical underpinnings of the causal variablesCauses are no less important than functions Or, find the threshold between generality and specificity
  • 17. To sum up One way to S-M The social S-M do it: explanationssciences aim explanations structural- operate to explain model modelling functionalphenomena mechanisms explanations individuation
  • 18. Functions in S-M explanations are the theoretical underpinnings of causes in a mechanism
  • 19. Selected referencesCraver C. (2001). Role functions, mechanisms and hierarchy. Philosophy of Science, 68(1).Cummins R. (1975), Functional analysis. Journal of Philosophy, 72.Demeulenaere P. (ed) (2011). Analytical sociology and social mechanisms. CUP.Franck R. (ed.) (2002). The explanatory power of models, Kluwer. C. and Wunsch G.(2010). Self-rated Health in the Baltic Countries, 1994- 1999, European Journal of Population, 26(4).Little D. (2011), Causal mechanisms in the social realm. in P. Illari, F. Russo, and J. Williamson (eds), Causality in the sciences. OUP.McKay Illari P. and Williamson J. (2011). Function and organization: comparing the mechanisms of protein synthesis and natural selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.Mouchart M. and Russo F. (2011), Causal explanation: recursive decompositions and mechanisms, in P.Illari, F. Russo, and J. Williamson (eds), Causality in the sciences. OUPMouchart M., Russo F. and Wunsch G. (2010), Inferring Causal Relations by Modelling Structures, Statistica.Russo F. (2009), Causality and causal modelling in the social sciences: Measuring variations. Springer.