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October 2021

Single case probabilities and the social world: The application of Popper's propensity interpretation

Journal/Book: J Theor Soc Behav. 1999; 29: 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford Ox4 1Jf, Oxon, England. Blackwell Publ Ltd. 187+.

Abstract: This paper is a re-examination of Popper's propensity interpretation of probability in respect of its potential methodological value in social science. A long standing problem for the (standard) frequency interpretation of probability is that whilst it is able to treat both aggregate and individual phenomena as having measurable properties, it cannot explain the ontological relationship between such concrete individual cases and aggregates. Popper's interpretation treats single cases as both real, but also as realisations of a propensity to occur. The frequency and propensity interpretations are compared and whilst some common objections raised must be upheld, they do not devalue the importance of the propensity interpretation as at least a metaphysical basis for probabilistic claims in social science. However the value of the approach may also lie in its methodological potential. Were I sugest that single case probabilities must be analysed in terms of the anterior probabilities of prior constituent events. In this I move beyond Popper's own programme, but suggest that such a move is theoretically compatible with recent complexity approaches in social science and goes some way toward meeting anti-naturalist concerns about intentionality.

Note: Article Williams M, Univ Plymouth, Dept Sociol, Plymouth PL4 8AA, Devon, ENGLAND

Keyword(s): Single Case Studies VI


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