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Why did they do that?: the methodology of reasons for action

O'Mahoney, J. ORCID: (2015) Why did they do that?: the methodology of reasons for action. International Theory, 7 (2). pp. 231-262. ISSN 1752-9719

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S175297191500007X


‘Why did they do that?’ is one of the most common questions in International Relations. However, we cannot access other people’s reasons for action the same way that we perceive our own; we cannot introspect the reasons of other actors. This paper provides a unifying framework that delineates different types of knowledge claims regarding reason attribution. There are three possible methodological responses: (1) assume a possible reason and explain behavior in terms of that reason; (2) avoid the direct attribution of reason to individuals and locate explanatory leverage at an analytical level beyond the individual actor reason; and (3) use empirical evidence to adjudicate between possible reasons. Excessive skepticism of evidence of reasons lessens our understanding of the causes of action. When using empirical evidence, contrary to existing arguments, the paper shows that private settings do not systematically favor the true revelation of reasons. The paper also proposes a general principle, consilience, that allows evaluation of empirical claims of reason attribution that subsumes several existing methodological considerations, organizes them, and gives a consistent means of choosing between alternative reason attributions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:80589
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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