Non-causal understanding with economic models: the case of general equilibrium

Journal of Economic Methodology 24 (3):297-317 (2017)
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How can we use models to understand real phenomena if models misrepresent the very phenomena we seek to understand? Some accounts suggest that models may afford understanding by providing causal knowledge about phenomena via how-possibly explanations. However, general equilibrium models, for example, pose a challenge to this solution since their contribution appears to be purely mathematical results. Despite this, practitioners widely acknowledge that it improves our understanding of the world. I argue that the Arrow–Debreu model provides a mathematical how-possibly explanation which establishes claims of mathematical dependence. The account developed reveals how mathematical knowledge can inform claims about the world, allow ‘what-if-things-had-been-different’ inferences, and thus improve our understanding.



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Philippe Verreault-Julien
Eindhoven University of Technology

References found in this work

How the laws of physics lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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