Potential outcomes, counterfactuals, and structural modelling. Causal approaches in the social sciences

Federica Russo, Université catholique de Louvain
Guillaume Wunsch, Université Catholique de Louvain
Michel Mouchart, Université Catholique de Louvain

This paper examines the potential outcome model developed by Rubin and its counterfactual underpinnings as developed by Lewis. Though a major contribution of Rubin’s potential outcome model has been to stress the importance of the design stage, we recall the main methodological and epistemological flaws of his approach. We argue that the study of causes and effects does not necessarily require counterfactuals, once a structural modelling framework, as the one developed here, is adopted. Our approach emphasises and spells out the role of background knowledge, marginal-conditional decomposition, and of stability for providing a causal explanation of a given phenomenon.

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Presented in Session 20: Data and Methods

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