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Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts (1st edn)

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan
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date: 07 December 2023

Determinism, Predictions, and Probabilismlocked

Determinism, Predictions, and Probabilismlocked

  • Francois Dépelteau


This chapter addresses determinism, which has been the predominant mode of perceiving the universe in modern sciences. The basic assumption is that any event is the effect of an external cause. Generally speaking, biological determinism focuses on the biological causes of events, whereas social sciences focus on the social causes. This mode of perceiving the social universe is typically associated with positivism and, more specifically, social naturalism — or the idea that there is no significant difference between social phenomena and natural phenomena. In this logic, it is assumed that social scientists can and should discover ‘social laws’ — or universal relations of causality between a social cause and a social effect. However, determinism in the social sciences has been criticized since its very beginning. In response to these critiques, many social scientists have adopted various forms of ‘soft’ determinism. The chapter then considers social predictions and probabilism.

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