Case Studies, Counterfactuals, and Causal Explanations
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
This article critically examines the use of single-observation case studies to develop causal explanations for significant legal events, detailing the evidential and inferential problems inherent in this methodology. Most significant among these problems is that focus on a single case necessitates the use of counterfactual thought experiments to test causal hypotheses. The pitfalls of such thought experiments are illustrated through discussion of recent attempts to explain the collapse of Enron Corporation using this approach. Application of a set of normative criteria to the products of these Enron thought experiments reveals the suspect nature of causal explanations and policy prescriptions drawn from single-observation case studies.