Genetics and the social science explanation of individual outcomes

Jeremy Freese*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


Accumulating evidence from behavioral genetics suggests that the vast majority of individual-level outcomes of abiding sociological interest are genetically influenced to a substantial degree. This raises the question of the place of genetics in social science explanations. Genomic causation is described from a counterfactualist perspective, which makes its complexity plain and highlights the distinction between identifying causes and substantiating explanations. For explanation, genomic causes must be understood as strictly mediated by the body. One implication is that the challenge of behavioral genetics for sociology is much more a challenge from psychology than biology, and a main role for genetics is as a placeholder for ignorance of more proximate influences of psychological and other embodied variation. Social scientists should not take this challenge from psychology as suggesting any especially fundamental explanatory place for either it or genetics, but the contingent importance of genetic and psychological characteristics is itself available for sociological investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S1-S35
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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