Abstract

During the past decade, social mechanisms and mechanism-based explanations have received considerable attention in the social sciences as well as in the philosophy of science. This article critically reviews the most important philosophical and social science contributions to the mechanism approach. The first part discusses the idea of mechanism based explanation from the point of view of philosophy of science and relates it to causation and to the covering-law account of explanation. The second part focuses on how the idea of mechanisms has been used in the social sciences. The final part discusses recent developments in analytical sociology, covering the nature of sociological explananda, the role of theory of action in mechanism-based explanations, Merton’s idea of middle-range theory, and the role of agent-based simulations in the development of mechanism-based explanations.

Keywords: explanation, causal inference, realism, agent-based simulation, individualism, middle-range theory.