reduction in the special sciences
An upcoming special issue of Erkenntnis (a journal in analytic philosophy) focuses on the topic of “reduction in the special sciences” (associated with this 2008 conference, here are some earlier versions of the papers in the special issue).
Here are some of the issues that the special issue will wrestle with:
Science presents us with a variety of accounts of the world. While some of these accounts posit deep theoretical structure and fundamental entities, others do not. But which of these approaches is the right one? How should science conceptualize the world? And what is the relation between the various accounts? Opinions on these issues diverge wildly in philosophy of science. At one extreme are reductionists who argue that higher-level theories should, in principle, be incorporated in, or eliminated by, the basic-level theory. According to this view, higher-level theories do not ultimately exhibit conceptual integrity or provide genuine explanations. At the other extreme are pluralists who take higher levels of description and explanation seriously and argue for their independence and indispensability.
As is readily evident from the abstract, one of the contributions is of particular interest to me, the piece by Jack Vromen: “Micro-foundations in Strategic Management: Squaring Coleman’s Diagram.”
Abell, Felin and Foss argue that “macro-explanations” in strategic management, explanations in which organizational routines figure prominently and in which both the explanandum and explanans are at the macro-level, are necessarily incomplete. They take a diagram (which has the form of a trapezoid) from Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.)/London, (1990) to task to show that causal chains connecting two macro-phenomena always involve “macro-to-micro” and “micro-to-macro” links, links that macro-explanations allegedly fail to recognize. Their plea for micro-foundations in strategic management is meant to shed light on these “missing links”. The paper argues that while there are good reasons for providing micro-foundations, Abell, Felin and Foss’s causal incompleteness argument is not one of them. Their argument does not sufficiently distinguish between causal and constitutive relations. Once these relations are carefully distinguished, it follows that Coleman’s diagram has to be squared. This in turn allows us to see that macro-explanations need not be incomplete.
I’ll post a final/copy-edited version of the response into the comments (once we get it back).