Economic models and historical explanation

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 25 (4):421-441 (1995)
In investigating their models, economists do not appear to engage much in the activities many philosophers take to be essential to scientific understanding of the world, activities such as testing hypotheses and establishing laws. How, then, can economic models explain anything about the real world? Borrowing from William Dray, an explanation of what something really is, as opposed to an explanation of why something happens, is the subsumption of the explanandum under a suitable concept. One way economic models explain real-world phenomena is by providing explanations-what of such phenomena. In this way, economic models can afford explanations of the world without necessarily involving the activities philosophers take to be integral to scientific understanding of the world, for explanations-what do not necessarily involve the activities in question.
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