What is the Problem with Model-based Explanation in Economics?

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Abstract

The question of whether the idealized models of theoretical economics are explanatory has been the subject of intense philosophical debate. It is sometimes presupposed that either a model provides the actual explanation or it does not provide an explanation at all. Yet, two sets of issues are relevant to the evaluation of model-based explanation: what conditions should a model satisfy in order to count as explanatory and does the model satisfy those conditions. My aim in this paper is to unpack this distinction and show that separating the first set of issues from the second is crucial to an accurate diagnosis of the distinctive challenges that economic models pose. Along the way I sketch a view of model-based explanation in economics that focuses on the role that non-empirical and empirical strategies play in increasing confidence in the adequacy of a given model-based explanation.

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