Understanding with Theoretical Models

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

This paper discusses the epistemic import of highly abstract and simplified theoretical models using Thomas Schelling’s checkerboard model as an example. We argue that the epistemic contribution of theoretical models can be better understood in the context of a cluster of models relevant to the explanatory task at hand. The central claim of the paper is that theoretical models make better sense in the context of a menu of possible explanations. In order to justify this claim, we introduce a distinction between causal scenarios and causal mechanism schemes. These conceptual tools help us to articulate the basis for modelers’ intuitive confidence that their models make an important epistemic contribution. By focusing on the role of the menu of possible explanations in the evaluation of explanatory hypotheses, it is possible to understand how a causal mechanism scheme can improve our explanatory understanding even in cases where it does not describe the actual cause of a particular phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Economic Methodology
Volume21
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
ISSN1350-178X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Bibliographical note

A paper from the IX INEM Conference in Helsinki.
Volume:
Proceeding volume:

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology
  • 511 Economics
  • 611 Philosophy

Cite this

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title = "Understanding with Theoretical Models",
abstract = "This paper discusses the epistemic import of highly abstract and simplified theoretical models using Thomas Schelling’s checkerboard model as an example. We argue that the epistemic contribution of theoretical models can be better understood in the context of a cluster of models relevant to the explanatory task at hand. The central claim of the paper is that theoretical models make better sense in the context of a menu of possible explanations. In order to justify this claim, we introduce a distinction between causal scenarios and causal mechanism schemes. These conceptual tools help us to articulate the basis for modelers’ intuitive confidence that their models make an important epistemic contribution. By focusing on the role of the menu of possible explanations in the evaluation of explanatory hypotheses, it is possible to understand how a causal mechanism scheme can improve our explanatory understanding even in cases where it does not describe the actual cause of a particular phenomenon.",
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Understanding with Theoretical Models. / Ylikoski, Petri K; Aydinonat, Emrah.

In: Journal of Economic Methodology, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2014, p. 19-36.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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AB - This paper discusses the epistemic import of highly abstract and simplified theoretical models using Thomas Schelling’s checkerboard model as an example. We argue that the epistemic contribution of theoretical models can be better understood in the context of a cluster of models relevant to the explanatory task at hand. The central claim of the paper is that theoretical models make better sense in the context of a menu of possible explanations. In order to justify this claim, we introduce a distinction between causal scenarios and causal mechanism schemes. These conceptual tools help us to articulate the basis for modelers’ intuitive confidence that their models make an important epistemic contribution. By focusing on the role of the menu of possible explanations in the evaluation of explanatory hypotheses, it is possible to understand how a causal mechanism scheme can improve our explanatory understanding even in cases where it does not describe the actual cause of a particular phenomenon.

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KW - 611 Philosophy

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