Rethinking the concept of cause in international relations theory

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to analyse and rethink the treatment of the concept of cause in contemporary International Relations theorising. It is argued that International Relations theorising, in line with the dominant philosophical traditions in twentieth century philosophy of science and social science, is deeply informed by an empiricist `Humean' philosophy of causation. The acceptance of Humean assumptions concerning causation leads to an array of meta-theoretical and theoretical problems in the discipline, notably to the dichotomisation of `causal' and `non-causal' approaches and the tendencies towards theoretical reductionism.
The thesis seeks to rethink the Humean framing of causation through `deepening' and 'broadening' the meaning of the concept of cause. Causation is given ontological grounding through following the insights of philosophical realism. The ontological deepening of the concept of cause allows us to overcome some of the key methodological, epistemological and ontological problems of the `rationalist' causal theorists in International Relations, while avoiding the anti-causal conclusions of the `reflectivist' theorists. Moreover, it is argued that through revisiting the Aristotelian philosophy of causation we can develop more nuanced understandings of the different ways in which social causes work and, crucially, interact. It is argued that broadening the concept of cause allows us to conceptualise not just `pushing and pulling' causes, but also `constraining and enabling' conditioning causes.
The deeper and broader account of cause allows us to deal with some of the central metatheoretical and theoretical problems that Humeanism has given rise to in International Relations theorising. The causal-constitutive theory dichotomy can be seen as misleading. Also, through adopting the philosophical and conceptual tools advanced here, International Relations theorising can be directed towards more ontologically holistic, methodologically pluralist and epistemologically reflective causal analyses of world politics.
Date of Award10 Dec 2004
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorWilliam Ward Bain (Supervisor) & Jonathan Mark Joseph (Supervisor)

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