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Middle-range theory: Without it what could anyone do?

Cartwright, Nancy (2020) Middle-range theory: Without it what could anyone do? THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, 35 (3). pp. 269-323. ISSN 2171-679X

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Abstract

Philosophers of science have had little to say about 'middle-range theory' although much of what is done in science and of what drives its successes falls under that label. These lectures aim to spark an interest in the topic and to lay groundwork for further research on it. 'Middle' in 'middle range' is with respect to the level both of abstraction and generality. Much middle-range theory is about things that come under the label 'mechanism'. The lectures explore three different kinds of mechanism: structural mechanisms or underlying systems that afford causal pathways; causal-chain mechanisms that are represented in what in policy contexts are called 'theories of change' and for which I give an extended account following the causal process theory of Wesley Salmon; and middle-range-law mechanisms like those discussed by Jon Elster, which I claim are – and rightly are – rampant throughout the social sciences. The theory of the democratic peace, that democracies do not go to war with democracies, serves as a running example. The discussions build up to the start of, first, an argument that reliability in social (and natural) science depends not so much on evidence than it does on the support of a virtuous tangle of practices (without which there couldn't even be evidence), and second, a defence of a community-practice centred instrumentalist understanding of many of the central basic principles that we use (often successfully) in social (and in natural) science for explanation, prediction and evaluation.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Cartwright, Nancynancy.cartwright@durham.ac.uk0000-0002-0873-6966
Additional Information: ISSN: 0495-4548 (print)
Keywords: evidence-based policy (EBP); middle-range theory; mechanism; marker; theory of change
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
General Issues > Theory Change
Depositing User: Unnamed user with email theoria@ehu.es
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2020 02:54
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2020 02:54
Item ID: 18280
Journal or Publication Title: THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science
Publisher: Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea / Universidad del País Vasco
Official URL: https://ojs.ehu.eus/index.php/THEORIA/article/view...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1387/theoria.21479
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
General Issues > Theory Change
Date: September 2020
Page Range: pp. 269-323
Volume: 35
Number: 3
ISSN: 2171-679X
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18280

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