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Causation, complexity, and the concert: the pragmatics of causal explanation in international relations

Humphreys, A. R. C. ORCID: (2017) Causation, complexity, and the concert: the pragmatics of causal explanation in international relations. Journal of International Relations and Development, 20 (4). pp. 717-736. ISSN 1581-1980

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1057/jird.2016.10


A causal explanation provides information about the causal history of whatever is being explained. However, most causal histories extend back almost infinitely and can be described in almost infinite detail. Causal explanations therefore involve choices about which elements of causal histories to pick out. These choices are pragmatic: they reflect our explanatory interests. When adjudicating between competing causal explanations, we must therefore consider not only questions of epistemic adequacy (whether we have good grounds for identifying certain factors as causes) but also questions of pragmatic adequacy (whether the aspects of the causal history picked out are salient to our explanatory interests). Recognizing that causal explanations differ pragmatically as well as epistemically is crucial for identifying what is at stake in competing explanations of the relative peacefulness of the nineteenth-century Concert system. It is also crucial for understanding how explanations of past events can inform policy prescription.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:46877
Publisher:Palgrave Macmillan


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