, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 59–80 | Cite as

Isolating Representations Versus Credible Constructions? Economic Modelling in Theory and Practice

Original Article


This paper examines two recent approaches to the nature and functioning of economic models: models as isolating representations and models as credible constructions. The isolationist view conceives of economic models as surrogate systems that isolate some of the causal mechanisms or tendencies of their respective target systems, while the constructionist approach treats them rather like pure constructions or fictional entities that nevertheless license different kinds of inferences. I will argue that whereas the isolationist view is still tied to the representationalist understanding of models that takes the model-target dyad as the basic unit of analysis, the constructionist perspective can better accommodate the way we actually acquire knowledge through them. Using the example of Tobin’s ultra-Keynesian model I will show how many of the epistemic characteristics of modelling tend to go unrecognised if too much focus is placed on the model-target dyad.



I wish to thank all the participants in the workshop on ‘Models as Isolating Tools or Credible Worlds?’ at the University of Helsinki, as well as the two referees of Erkenntnis for their valuable comments on this paper. The expression “modelling styles”, which I use to describe Tobin’s ultra-Keynesian model, was suggested by Robert Sugden in the Helsinki workshop.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of HelsinkiUniversity of HelsinkiFinland

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