Re: Single-Cause Theories

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Thu, 20 Apr 1995 15:31:11 -0400

I really do agree with Bob Graber on this one. For years now, I have
encountered anthropology students who always believe that the most
difficult science is physics and chemistry, followed by the biological
sciences, with the social sciences as sort of 'easy pie'. I always
reverse the order for them, and suggest some simple problem which
requires testing of hypotheses. When they realize that the social
sciences really have almost no control over variables, biological
sciences more, and the physical sciences the most, they appreciate how
difficult social science actually is...momentarily. I don't disdain
multicausal theorizing, and I've done my share with regard to brain
evolution, but there are no easy prescriptions for what we do, or at
least try to do. R. Holloway.
On Thu, 20 Apr 1995, SS51000 wrote:

> In principle, the fewer variables you can use to explain a
> phenomenon, the better. True, social science is yet to produce
> compelling single-cause theories; but the same can be said, I am afraid,
> for multiple-cause theories! I really fail to grasp the argument that
> multiple-cause theories have some sort of inherent superiority. This
> reminds me of the appallingly naive arguments social scientists
> sometimes offer to the effect that because social reality appears so
> "messy," so should our attempts to explain that reality. Messy
> explanations are just symptoms that we don't understand something very
> well at all. Elegant, beautiful, and clear explanations are syptoms, on
> the other hand, that we are really getting somewhere. It is a false
> consolation--an illusion--to imagine that social science's failure to
> produce simple, powerful explanations is really some kind of success.
> --Bob Graber