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Winchgenstein and functional explanation

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Functional explanations in social science explain social phenomena by appeal to the role that they play in society’s functioning. Such explanations look to be incompatible with those that appeal to social actors’ subjective reasons for acting as they do-and to imply that such reasons must be mere rationalisation or epiphenomenal ideology. I argue that this is a false dilemma: the same behaviour can have both functional and intentional explanations. I then consider Peter Winch’s influential application of Wittgensteinian ideas (hence: “Winchgenstein”) to rule out functional explanation as inconsistent with social science’s philosophically mandatory focus on interpreting meanings. I argue that functional explanation can survive Winch, perhaps with an assist from a different kind of functionalism.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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