Notes on Technology and the Moral Order

By Alvin W. Gouldner; Richard A. Peterson | Go to book overview

Addendum
A Methodological Note on Determining the Causal Priority of Two Variables

L. KEITH MILLER

This appendix outlines a tentative solution to the problem of determining which of two variables is causally prior to the other. The problem of causal priority has been solved in the experimental sciences, in which one variable can be fixed at certain predetermined values and its effect on other variables investigated. In this case, any covariation of the two variables indicates an effect of the fixed variable on the other one. The strategy exemplified by the experimental approach is to make one variable "uninfluenceable" through experimental manipulation and then to investigate its covariation with other variables.

The problem of causal priority is virtually unsolved in the non- experimental sciences. For, when data is gathered from a field study, the effect of one variable on another is always accompanied by the possibility of a reciprocal influence. In this case, where both variables are simultaneously "influenceable," the covariation between them is an indicator solely of the amount of influence, but not its direction. A high degree of covariation might be indicative of the complete domination of one variable by the other, the mutual influence of each variable on the other, or a degree of asymmetrical influence lying somewhere between the two extremes. Hence, in this

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1
This paper was written for this volume at the suggestion of the senior author. Gouldner suggested many of the basic ideas and discussed the few new ones at length with me. I should like to thank Don Bushell for giving the manuscript a detailed criticism. L.K.M.

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