Cause is a problematic concept in social science, as in all fields of knowledge. We organise information in terms of cause and effect to impose order on the world, but this can impede a more sophisticated understanding. In his latest book, Richard Ned Lebow reviews understandings of cause in physics and philosophy and concludes that no formulation is logically defensible and universal in its coverage. This is because cause is not a feature of the world but a cognitive shorthand we use to make sense of it. In practice, causal inference is always rhetorical and must accordingly be judged on grounds of practicality. Lebow offers a new approach - 'inefficient causation' - that is constructivist in its emphasis on the reasons people have for acting as they do, but turns to other approaches to understand the aggregation of their behaviour. This novel approach builds on general understandings and idiosyncratic features of context.
Richard Ned Lebow is Professor of International Political Theory in the War Studies Department of King's College London and James O. Freedman Presidential Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth College. He is also a Bye-Fellow of Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. In a career spanning six decades he has authored 16 books and more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in international relations, comparative politics, political theory, methodology, political psychology, history and classics. Among other books, he is the author of The Politics and Ethics of Identity: In Search of Ourselves (Cambridge, 2012), winner of the Alexander L. George Award of the International Society for Political Psychology for Best Book in the Field, 2013; Why Nations Fight (Cambridge, 2010); A Cultural Theory of International Relations (Cambridge, 2008), which won the 2009 American Political Science Association Jervis and Schroeder Award for the Best Book on International History and Politics as well as the British International Studies Association Susan Strange Book Prize for the Best Book in International Studies; and The Tragic Vision of Politics (Cambridge, 2003), which won the 2005 Alexander L. George Book Award of the International Society for Political Psychology.
Introduction; 1. The quest for cause; 2. Inefficient causation I; 3. Inefficient causation II; 4. The European reconceptualisation of space; 5. Cause and knowledge.