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Global Policy Institute

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Publication details

Reiss, Julian (2013). The Explanation Paradox Redux. Journal of Economic Methodology 20(3): 280-292.

Author(s) from Durham


I respond to some challenges raised by my critics. In particular, I argue in favour of six claims. First, against Alexandrova and Northcott, I point out that to deny the explanatoriness of economic models by assuming an ontic (specifically, causal) conception of explanation is to beg the question. Second, against defences of causal realism (by Hausman, Mäki, Rol and Grüne-Yanoff) I point out that they have provided no criterion to distinguish those claims a model makes that can be interpreted realistically (the model's ‘causal content’ or claims it makes about causal powers or mechanisms) and those the realist can safely ignore. Third, I point out that Hausman's and Rol's claims about robustness plus the empirical observation that economic models are hardly ever robust to the right kinds of specification changes imply that these models do not explain (which is problematic as my original article argued). Fourth, I point out that Sugden's response still leaves an important question unanswered, viz. what makes economic models explanatory. Fifth, I sketch an alternative, instrumentalist account of explanation and argue that it would fit Sugden's bill. Sixth, I point out that under this account of explanation, economic models would come out as non-explanatory, which brings us back to Alexandrova and Northcott's account and its associated difficulties. The ‘explanation paradox’, therefore, remains unscathed.