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Weber ‘Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation’.

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Presentation on theme: "Weber ‘Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation’."— Presentation transcript:

1 Weber ‘Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation’.

2 Weber’s Methodological work Can social and cultural studies ever be true sciences? He analyses the methodological problems of the social sciences and debates questions about the methods we should use. Spells out the methods used in cultural and historical studies. Focuses on the methods used to determine historical causality Analyses the methodological foundations of singular causal claims.

3 ‘sociology… is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences. We shall speak of action insofar as the active individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behaviour…’ (Economy and Society, 1921/1968) Need to understand individual action. Verstehen- understanding the meanings people give to their actions. Is also part of the process of causal investigation.

4 ‘Theory of adequate causation and objective possibility’ To create a theory of causality that fits in with the social sciences. This theory of causation helps a social scientist to pick out a few actions or events from an infinite amount as central causes. Draws on Johannes Von Kries. Relate phenomena to meaning and values. External reality is far more complex than our thought is capable of approaching. So have to use abstract.

5 ‘what causal significance is properly to be attributed to this individual decision in the context of the totality of infinitely numerous “factors,” all of which had to be in such and such an arrangement and in no other if this result were to emerge, and what role is it therefore to be assigned in an historical exposition?’ We need to pose such questions in History to establish it as a science.

6 ‘Objective possibility and Adequate causation’ ‘If a single historical fact is conceived of as absent from or modified in a complex of historical conditions, it would condition a course of historical events in a way which would be different in certain historically important respects.’ So a factor is causally significant if, when modified, it alters the actual course of historical events. If a factor is historically significant it is the “adequate cause” of a given result. This “adequate cause” is a necessary condition in bringing about the event in question but only in conjunction with various other causes. Distinction between adequate and chance causation.

7 Judgements of ‘Objective Possibility’ Weber suggests that a problem in history is the exclusion of an infinity of components as “causally irrelevant” Real problem of historical causation is how to demonstrate that there is relationship between cause and effect. Have to use a series of abstractions Judgements of objective possibility are an “imaginative construct”, we have to mentally construct a course of events that would be altered because of this modification. Transform reality into a mental construct to make it a historical fact through a process of isolations and generalisations. Objective possibility is a positive knowledge. We use ontological and nomological knowledge in historical causality

8 ‘When this is done, then we can render a positive judgement that the joint action of those facts “could” bring about the effect which is asserted to be “objectively possible”. This can only mean, in other words, that if we conceived the effect as having actually occurred under the modified conditions we would then recognise those facts thus modified to be “adequate causes”.

9 Historians have an intuitive gift to establish causal significance which, when the validity is disputed, has to be formulated in a logically correct way. Not trying to show the process of a historians mind but how they would demonstrate validity in case of dispute. ‘The most important phase of historical work, the establishement of causal regress, attains validity only when, in the event of challenge, it is able to pass the test of the use of the category of objective possibility which entails the isolation and generalisations of the causal individual components for the purpose of ascertaining the possibility of the synthesis of certain conditions into adequate causes’

10 Summary Weber looks at the methods used in historical causation and tries to create a theory of causality that fits in with the social sciences Is an imaginative experiment and helps a social scientist to pick out a few actions or events from an infinite amount as central causes In order to work out the causal significance of an individual factor you have to mentally modify it to see if this has an impact on the actual course of events. So you have to use a series of abstractions by making “judgements of objective possibilities” which involves “imaginative constructs” whereby you imagine alternate causal sequences and outcomes, in order to asses the causal significance and show that it is an adequate cause. Objective possibility and adequate causation are a part of establishing a probable link between cause and effect.


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