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Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 187–208 | Cite as

Functions and Mechanisms in Structural-Modelling Explanations

  • Guillaume Wunsch
  • Michel Mouchart
  • Federica Russo
Article

Abstract

One way social scientists explain phenomena is by building structural models. These models are explanatory insofar as they manage to perform a recursive decomposition on an initial multivariate probability distribution, which can be interpreted as a mechanism. Explanations in social sciences share important aspects that have been highlighted in the mechanisms literature. Notably, spelling out the functioning the mechanism gives it explanatory power. Thus social scientists should choose the variables to include in the model on the basis of their function in the mechanism. This paper examines the notion of ‘function’ within structural modelling. We argue that ‘functions’ ought to be understood as the theoretical underpinnings of the causes, namely as the role that causes play in the functioning of the mechanism.

Keywords

Causality Explanation Function Mechanism Recursive decomposition Structural modelling 

Notes

Acknowledgments

M. Mouchart gratefully acknowledges financial support from the “Inter-University Attraction Pole”, phase VI (number P6/03) of the Belgian Government (Belgian Science Policy). F. Russo has been FWO Marie Curie Pegasus Fellow at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel during the academic year 2012–2013. We thank Robert Franck for his remarks on an earlier version of this paper and for commenting in greater detail his approach. Comments and suggestions from two anonymous referees helped us improve our arguments.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guillaume Wunsch
    • 1
  • Michel Mouchart
    • 2
  • Federica Russo
    • 3
  1. 1.DemographyUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.CORE & ISBAUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  3. 3.Dipartimento di studi umanisticiUniversità di FerraraFerraraItaly

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