A regularity theory of causality for the social sciences

James Mahoney*, Laura Acosta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article discusses a regularity theory of causality (RTC) for the social sciences. With RTC, causality is a relationship between X and Y characterized by three features: (1) temporal order; (2) spatiotemporal connection; and (3) constant conjunction. The article discusses each of these three features, situating them within work in the social sciences. The article explores how scholars in the fields of comparative-historical analysis (CHA) and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) implicitly understand causality in terms of these three features. Special attention is focused on the concern of CHA with methods for establishing the spatiotemporal connection between cause and outcome. Likewise, special attention is focused on the concern of QCA with establishing constant conjunction in the form of non-spurious regularities. The article compares RTC with two other theories of causality: causal power theories, which focus on the activation of entities with generative capacities, and counterfactual theories, which view individual causes as difference-makers for outcomes. The article concludes with a call for scholars in the social sciences who implicitly use RTC to begin to do so explicitly and more self-consciously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1889-1911
Number of pages23
JournalQuality and Quantity
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Causation
  • Comparative-historical analysis
  • Hume
  • QCA
  • Qualitative methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Social Sciences(all)


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