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The explanatory potential of artificial societies

Abstract

It is often claimed that artificial society simulations contribute to the explanation of social phenomena. At the hand of a particular example, this paper argues that artificial societies often cannot provide full explanations, because their models are not or cannot be validated. Despite that, many feel that such simulations somehow contribute to our understanding. This paper tries to clarify this intuition by investigating whether artificial societies provide potential explanations. It is shown that these potential explanations, if they contribute to our understanding, considerably differ from potential causal explanations. Instead of possible causal histories, simulations offer possible functional analyses of the explanandum. The paper discusses how these two kinds explanatory strategies differ, and how potential functional explanations can be appraised.

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Correspondence to Till Grüne-Yanoff.

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Grüne-Yanoff, T. The explanatory potential of artificial societies. Synthese 169, 539–555 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-008-9429-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-008-9429-0

Keywords

  • Agent-based simulations
  • Complex systems
  • Explanation