purposive explanationan explanation of an occurrence as the outcome of an actor's own purposes and the purposive act(s) which follows from these purposes. Debate in philosophy and in sociology exists as to whether or not such explanations should be regarded as a species of’causal explanation’, explaining events that the actor ‘makes happen’. For some theorists ‘reasons are causes’, and ‘purposive explanations’, ‘causal explanations’, but for others they are not. Either way, however, purposive explanations are not causal explanations in the Humean sense of’universal’ empirical regularities involving ‘casual laws’, in so far as they imply that actors could have acted differently. A crucial issue is whether purposive social action can be further explained, e.g. in 'structural terms’ and/or in lawlike ways. See also ACTION, TELEOLOGY, FREE WILL, EXPLANATION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000