Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century

By Stuart G. Shanker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

Chance, cause and conduct: probability theory and the explanation of human action

Jeff Coulter


INTRODUCTION

Human actions remain at the core of most serious explanatory work undertaken within the behavioural sciences, but there still remain major obstacles blocking an appreciation of the truly unique status of the phenomena we subsume under this rubric. In particular, an abiding theme in explanatory strategies continues to be the objective of explaining human actions by invoking probabilistic causality as an epistemic solution to the problem of the failure of deductive-nomological causal schemata in this domain. 1

Deductive-nomological explanation takes the form of the logical derivation of a statement depicting the phenomenon to be explained (the explanandum) from a set of statements specifying the conditions under which the phenomenon is encountered and the laws of nature applicable to it (the explanans). A typical example of such a form of explanation would be: The occurrence of photosynthesis in plants with green leaves is explained by (i) the law which states that sunlight interacting with chlorophyll (the active agent in the leaves) generates complex organic materials including carbohydrates; and (ii) the actual conditions which obtain, viz., the exposure of green leaves to sunlight. The explanandum (e.g., an instance of photosynthesis) is thus a conclusion strictly deducible from a set of premisses which state the relevant law(s) and the antecedent condition(s). Despite its limitations as a model for many natural-scientific causal (deterministic) generalisations, this conception of explanation became a model for social-scientific emulation. 2

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Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • General Editors' Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Chronology xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 8
  • Chapter 1 - Philosophy of Logic 9
  • Bibliography 39
  • Chapter 2 - Philosophy of Mathematics in the Twentieth Century 50
  • Chapter 3 - Frege 124
  • Bibliography 153
  • Chapter 4 - Wittgenstein's Tractatus 157
  • Notes 187
  • Chapter 5 - Logical Positivism 193
  • Bibliography 210
  • Chapter 6 - The Philosophy of Physics 214
  • Bibliography 233
  • Chapter 7 - The Philosophy of Science Today 235
  • Chapter 8 - Chance, Cause and Conduct: Probability Theory and the Explanation of Human Action 266
  • Chapter 9 - Cybernetics 292
  • Bibliography 313
  • Chapter 10 - Descartes' Legacy: the Mechanist/Vitalist Debates 315
  • Notes 366
  • Glossary 376
  • Index 444
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