Lesson_Thirteen_and_Test - LESSON 13 Causes and...

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Section 33: Mill’s Methods (Hypotheses About Causes) , Barker, pp. 195-199. ***Read the section, then the following additional comments. A very common form of inductive reasoning involves the identification of causes. Much of our routine thinking about things that happen in life revolves around the question of “why?”; in most of those cases we are interested in causes and their effects. The identification of causes comes under the heading of inductive reasoning because: 1. we begin with an observation, and 2. we try to find the probable causes for certain phenomena. People have been trying to identify causes for as long as human beings have been around, but the nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill came up with a way of classifying the different procedures we use to find what caused something. He had his eye particularly on the methods of physical science, but this is just a special case of causal reasoning in general. Following Barker, we shall limit ourselves to three of Mill’s five methods. 1. The Method of Agreement. Let us say that we are looking at a large number of different instances in which something occurs. E.g. From time to time there have been periods of high unemployment. We want to know what is the probable cause of high unemployment. If we confine ourselves to an insufficient number of instances, we might come up with an unlikely conclusion, e.g. if we look at the party affiliation of whoever is in the White House. Instead, we need to look at as many instances as possible. In addition, since this is inductive reasoning, the less the periods of unemployment have in common with each other (high negative analogy!), the stronger our conclusion is going to be. Ideally, we want to isolate the one and only additional factor that is present when the phenomenon occurs, but is absent when the phenomenon does not occur. In this example let us say that, The one and only factor that is present whenever there is a high rate of unemployment, but is never present when there is not high unemployment, is an economic recession. 1 LESSON 13 Causes and Explanations
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To arrive at such an analysis we might wind up doing what Barker does in his examples, which is to lay out all the different instances of high unemployment with all of their characteristics, and then to find the one that occurs each time. If our observation is correct, then we might conclude: Probably an economic recession causes high unemployment. We have then identified a probable cause on the basis of Mill’s method of agreement. But a word of caution is in order. Could it not be that high unemployment causes an economic recession? Possibly, though in this case, probably not. The point is that Mill’s method of agreement has its limitations; it may identify a definite correlation between two things, but it requires further knowledge of the world to say with assurance which direction the causal arrow goes. For example, did the break-up of the Soviet Union cause greater
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Lesson_Thirteen_and_Test - LESSON 13 Causes and...

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