During the last decade or so, philosophers of science have shown increasing interest in scientific models and modeling. The primary impetus seems to have come from the philosophy of biology, but increasingly the philosophy of economics has been drawn into the discussion. This paper will focus on the particular subset of this literature that emphasizes the difference between a scientific model being explanatory and one that provides explanations of specific events. The main differences are in the structure of the models and the characteristics of the explanatory target. Traditionally, scientific explanations have been framed in terms of explaining particular events, but many scientific models have targets that are hypothetical patterns: “patterns of macroscopic behavior across systems that are heterogeneous at smaller scales” (Batterman & Rice, 2014, p. 349). The models with this characteristic are often highly idealized, and have complex and heterogeneous targets; such models are “central to a kind of modeling that is widely used in biology and economics” (Rohwer & Rice, 2013, p. 335). This paper has three main goals: (i) to discuss the literature on such models in the philosophy of biology, (ii) to show that certain economic phenomena possess the same degree of heterogeneity and complexity often encountered in biology (and thus, that hypothetical pattern explanations may be appropriate in certain areas of economics), and (iii) to demonstrate that Hayek’s arguments about “pattern predictions” and “explanations of the principle” are essentially arguments for the importance of this type of modeling in economics.
Helpful comments on earlier drafts were received from Emrah Aydinonat, Bruce Caldwell, John Davis, Uskali Mäki, and Scott Scheall. Versions of the paper were presented at the 44th Annual History of Economics Society Conference in Toronto and the TINT Center of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki and valuable feedback was received from various members of those two audiences.
Hands, D.W. (2018), "Hypothetical Pattern Explanations in Economic Science: Hayek’s Explanation of the Principle and Pattern Prediction Meets Contemporary Philosophy of Science
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