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Who have written about epistemological problems with inferred causality?

 
 
Reply Wed 21 Jul, 2010 03:28 pm
I am back to being a student after some years of working life, so I have sadly forgotten a lot of theory. I am now writing a dissertation, and I often come upon statements of this form:

"If A is a law/principle/rule/regulation it would be a good (bad) thing, because then group X would take (avoid) action 1 and action 1 is good (bad). "

For example, 'If stealing is allowed, it would be a bad thing, because then people in general would stop exerting effort to create wealth for themselves and others, which is important for a comfortable modern life'.

The critique, which I am fully aware of, is colloquially called the "law of unintended consequences" or the "butterfly effect" - that there is a possibility greater than zero that indirect effects will cause the opposite result of that claimed. For example a response to the above could be, "if stealing was allowed however wealth would fall into the hands of those most able to protect their wealth, arguably the most resourceful, and therefore those most able to create more wealth".

And in a wider sense, that because "everything leads to everything", to infer what is good or bad based on extremely simple logicized domino chains of causality is extremely inexact precisely because of these indirect effects.

I am NOT looking for a detailed discussion about this Wink What I AM looking for are the names of scholarly writers/articles/books that discuss this problem specifically, that I could reference when I criticise some of the most egregious examples. If anyone could point me in the right direction that would be excellent Smile


Secondly and slightly related: I would also be interested in the names/books of critics of the generalizability of empirical studies in science. In other words the concept that if a law has an effect in country 1 it may not have the same effect in country 2, because country 1 may have had additional invisible factors that country 2 lack.

For example, a researcher finds that after the United States enacted a law that all poor children are entitled to free nutritional meals, the number of the poor that were also malnourished decreased by 90%. She therefore recommends that Zimbabwe enact the same law to solve the same problem. Which theorists/books would be relevant to quote in a critique?

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