Credible Worlds, Capacities and Mechanisms
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This paper asks how, in science in general and in economics in particular, theoretical models aid the understanding of real-world phenomena. Using specific models in economics and biology as test cases, it considers three alternative answers: that models are tools for isolating the ‘capacities’ of causal factors in the real world; that modelling is ‘conceptual exploration’ which ultimately contributes to the development of genuinely explanatory theories; and that models are credible counterfactual worlds from which inductive inferences can be made. The paper argues that the ‘credible worlds’ account captures significant aspects of scientific practice, even if many modellers see their work as conceptual exploration.
KeywordsInductive Inference Model World Evolutionarily Stable Strategy Social Mechanism Conceptual Exploration
Previous versions of this paper were presented at a symposium on economic models at the 2006 Philosophy of Science Association conference in Vancouver and at a workshop on “Models as Isolating Tools or as Credible Worlds?” at the University of Helsinki in 2008. I thank participants in those meetings, and Emrah Aydinonat and an anonymous referee, for comments. The idea of using Banerjee’s model as an illustration was suggested by Maya Elliott. My work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK (award no. RES 051 27 0146).
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