Nancy Cartwright, Capacities and Nomological Machines. The Role of Theoretical Reason in Science

  • Ricardo F. CrespoEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Philosophy book series (BRIEFSPHILOSOPH)


This chapter introduces Cartwright’s thinking. She holds that explanation is the aim of science and that science should explain real causes using theoretical reason. Stable causes repeatedly linked originate what she calls “nomological machines”. Cartwright also holds the singularity and indeterminism of causes. We find in Aristotle and in Anscombe’s interpretations of causality adequate ground for this. From this perspective causality is a process of actualization of the power of an entity that may or may not occur due to internal or external factors. Cartwright assumes a greater difficulty in achieving causal explanations in the social realm than in the natural one. The greater complexity, the reflexivity and the lack of control have to do with singular human situations and human freedom. However, she leaves the door open to hope: “social science is hard, but not impossible.” This hope stems from the stability or regularity produced by institutions, habits or routines. Finally, on the basis of Cartwright, this Chapter proposes to distinguish between different types of socio-economic machines and models: theoretical and practical machines and models. Practically-designed machines are governed by practical and technical reason and can be embodied in institutions. Models are the blueprints of those machines.


Nancy Cartwright Explanation Capacities Nomological machines Explanation in social sciences Socio-economic machines Models 


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© The Author(s) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsIAE, Universidad AustralPilarArgentina

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