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Understanding with theoretical models

Ylikoski, Petri and Aydinonat, N. Emrah (2011) Understanding with theoretical models. Journal of Economic Methodology, 21 (1). pp. 19-36. ISSN 1350-178X

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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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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Ylikoski, Petripetri.ylikoski@helsinki.fi0000-0002-5237-9695
Aydinonat, N. Emrahemrah.aydinonat@helsinki.fi0000-0001-6633-4044
Keywords: models, explanation, causal mechanisms, segregation
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: Dr. N. Emrah Aydinonat
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2022 15:00
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2022 15:00
Item ID: 20978
Journal or Publication Title: Journal of Economic Methodology
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 13 December 2011
Page Range: pp. 19-36
Volume: 21
Number: 1
ISSN: 1350-178X

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