, Volume 195, Issue 5, pp 1909–1940 | Cite as

An interventionist approach to psychological explanation

  • Michael Rescorla
S.I. : Neuroscience and Its Philosophy


Interventionism is a theory of causal explanation developed by Woodward and Hitchcock. I defend an interventionist perspective on the causal explanations offered within scientific psychology. The basic idea is that psychology causally explains mental and behavioral outcomes by specifying how those outcomes would have been different had an intervention altered various factors, including relevant psychological states. I elaborate this viewpoint with examples drawn from cognitive science practice, especially Bayesian perceptual psychology. I favorably compare my interventionist approach with well-known nomological and mechanistic theories of psychological explanation.


Psychological explanation Interventionism Deductive-nomological model Mechanism Bayesian cognitive science Psychological law 



I presented excerpts from this material at a conference on Bayesian Theories of Perception and Epistemology at Cornell University, July 2015; during a symposium at the Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting in Atlanta, November 2016; and during a symposium at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology Annual Meeting, Baltimore, July 2017. I am grateful to all participants and audience members for helpful feedback, especially David Chalmers, David Danks, Steven Gross, Gualtiero Piccinini, Susanna Siegel, and Scott Sturgeon. Thanks also to Nicholas Shea and to three anonymous referees for this journal for comments that significantly improved the paper. My research was supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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