Causation and the struggle for a science of culture.

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Citation: O'Meara, T. (1997) Causation and the struggle for a science of culture.. Current anthropology, 38(3), 399-418 (RSS)
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O’Meara discussed the failure of positivist social science, and stated that the attempt which we can apply law-like argument in science to sociocultural was based on wrong account of causation, causal laws, and causal explanations. O’Meara thinks we must examine the nature of causation in the social contexts before borrowing the model. If the causation in social contexts has the physical properties and mechanical operations, then explanation of human affairs belongs to physical science, which means it is necessary to adopt law-like argument. On the contrary, if it is not, then we need to find another explanation.

O’Meara then discusses the deductive and inductive argument proposed by Hempel, which explain events or phenomenon by logical statement from certain laws and initial conditions. For Hempel, scientific explanation means to establish general laws, and the causal explanation here means the deduced statement which can also serve as premises of the deduction for more universal laws. In this explanation, laws need not always be causal laws, which means non causal principles or laws of coexistence could exist. This viewpoint is the basis for functional explanations in archaeology. Moreover, in Hempel’s model, prediction and explanation has same form, but the former might contain accidental correlations, and the correlation for later is based on laws or theoretical principles, which suggests that laws are the necessity in order to give explanation.

However, O’Meara thinks that the necessity can only be logical, not physical. In addition, argument based on natural law in human affairs tends to overlook human agency or active powers of things themselves, and it cannot predict some types of behavioral events. Also, some counterexamples cannot be fully explained, which indicates that gthen eneralization about human behavior can only be made under specific temporal and spatial circumstance. O’Meara then advocated the ontological approach proposed by Salmon. He thinks that if our goal is to explain why people do something, then causal ontology is the main thing we must explore, which means we should give an account of causality. The causal process and causal interaction solve the problem of causal connection between events. He emphasized the causal individualism, which claims human affairs can be explained by causal-mechanical explanation, which is limited to operations and interactions among individual human beings and other entities. Moreover, the causal law only can be made by specifing the characteristic causal properties of human causal mechanisms.