According to Explanandum and Explanans on Wikipedia:

An explanandum (a Latin term) is a sentence describing a phenomenon that is to be explained, and the explanans are the sentences adduced as explanations of that phenomenon.

It seems to me that there's a huge difference between natural and socially constructed phenomena, and not just because the latter are potentially unwanted or dangerous, but because theoretical and hypothetical explanans in sociology may not relate to anything real or existent.

Take 'intelligence', and the supposed measurement of it by IQ, a means to explain different social and economic outcomes. If we explain differences in these outcomes with IQ, we must surely accept that the causal chain works in the opposite direction too, that social economic outcomes affect IQ scores.

Is it bad science to try to factor out the former (outcomes) from the latter (IQ) due to the latter being hypothetical? So my question is whether hypothetical constructs can at all explain that which contributes to their explanatory power. Especially in sociology.

  • I edited your question, as I understood it, to make it clearer. You can roll back the edit if it does not reflect your intentions.
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 22:15

1 Answer 1


It is hard to consider a notion of 'natural phenomenon' that does not include socially constructed phenomena. We are, after all, animals at some level. This being a distinction without a difference, it is unlikely to be the deciding factor as two whether things are going to have clean explanations.

I would like to propose that what really makes the difference is 'chaos', in the mathematical sense -- the tendency of looping processes to develop complex unexpected behaviors even though the rules producing the behavior are simple. I would further propose that chaos is generally a consequence of the complexity of the interactions of feedback loops.

Social construction is dense with feedback. Every agent has an agenda and multiple sources of information about each other agent. And advantage is sought on all sides by controlling or distorting the feedback that others receive. Even if those distortions are improvements (a mother making her child feel safe by masking dangers in the environment, for instance) which seek group advantages, or confer advantages on others, they add a layer of complexity onto the feedback.

On the other hand, other systems, like particle interactions on a very small scale, or turbulent air flow may be just as complex at a detailed level. Every movement and distance and how that move aligns with each quantum number provides a different kind of feedback between particles, each air current moves each of the others... So it seems wiser not to elevate human beings into a special category of cause and expect just us to be the cause of all the complexity that defies clean science.

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