Theoretical biology and economics are remarkably similar in their reliance on mathematical models, which attempt to represent real world systems using many idealized assumptions. They are also similar in placing a great emphasis on derivational robustness of modeling results. Recently philosophers of biology and economics have argued that robustness analysis can be a method for confirmation of claims about causal mechanisms, despite the significant reliance of these models on patently false assumptions. We argue that the power of robustness analysis has (...) been greatly exaggerated. It is best regarded as a method of discovery rather than confirmation. (shrink)
What sort of claims do scientific models make and how do these claims then underwrite empirical successes such as explanations and reliable policy interventions? In this paper I propose answers to these questions for the class of models used throughout the social and biological sciences, namely idealized deductive ones with a causal interpretation. I argue that the two main existing accounts misrepresent how these models are actually used, and propose a new account. *Received July 2006; revised August 2008. †To contact (...) the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri, St. Louis, 599 Lucas Hall (MC 73), One University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121-4400; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
Well–being, health and freedom are some of the many phenomena of interest to science whose definitions rely on a normative standard. Empirical generalizations about them thus present a special case of value-ladenness. I propose the notion of a ‘mixed claim’ to denote such generalizations. Against the prevailing wisdom, I argue that we should not seek to eliminate them from science. Rather, we need to develop principles for their legitimate use. Philosophers of science have already reconciled values with objectivity in several (...) ways, but none of the existing proposals are suitable for mixed claims. Using the example of the science of well-being, I articulate a conception of objectivity for this science and for mixed claims in general. _1_ Introduction _2_ What Are Mixed Claims? _3_ Mixed Claims Are Different _3.1_ Values as reasons to pursue science _3.2_ Values as agenda-setters _3.3_ Values as ethical constraints on research protocols _3.4_ Values as arbiters between underdetermined theories _3.5_ Values as determinants of standards of confirmation _3.6_ Values as sources of wishful thinking and fraud _4_ Mixed Claims Should Stay _4.1_ Against Nagel _5_ The Dangers of Mixed Claims _6_ The Existing Accounts of Objectivity _6.1_ The perils of impartiality _7_ Objectivity for Mixed Claims _8_ Three Rules _8.1_ Unearth the value presuppositions in methods and measures _8.2_ Check if value presuppositions are invariant to disagreements _8.3_ Consult the relevant parties _9_ Conclusion. (shrink)
What makes a measure of well-being valid? The dominant approach today, construct validation, uses psychometrics to ensure that questionnaires behave in accordance with background knowledge. Our first claim is interpretive—construct validation obeys a coherentist logic that seeks to balance diverse sources of evidence about the construct in question. Our second claim is critical—while in theory this logic is defensible, in practice it does not secure valid measures. We argue that the practice of construct validation in well-being research is theory avoidant, (...) favoring a narrow focus on statistical tests while largely ignoring relevant philosophical considerations. (shrink)
Can social phenomena be understood by analyzing their parts? Contemporary economic theory often assumes that they can. The methodology of constructing models which trace the behavior of perfectly rational agents in idealized environments rests on the premise that such models, while restricted, help us isolate tendencies, that is, the stable separate effects of economic causes that can be used to explain and predict economic phenomena. In this paper, I question both the claim that models in economics supply claims about tendencies (...) and also the view that economics, when successful, necessarily follows this method. When economics licenses successful policy interventions, as it did in the case of the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions, its method is not to study tendencies but rather to study the phenomenon as a whole. Key Words: economic models tendencies economic experiments policy making John Stuart Mill. (shrink)
The burgeoning science of well-being makes no secret of being value laden: improvement of well-being is its explicit goal. But in order to achieve this goal its concepts and claims need to be value adequate; that is, they need, among other things, to adequately capture well-being. In this article I consider two ways of securing this adequacy—first, by relying on philosophical theory of prudential value and, second, by the psychometric approach. I argue that neither is fully adequate and explore an (...) alternative. This alternative requires thorough changes in the way philosophers theorize about well-being. (shrink)
We argue that neuroeconomics should be a mechanistic science. We defend this view as preferable both to a revolutionary perspective, according to which classical economics is eliminated in favour of neuroeconomics, and to a classical economic perspective, according to which economics is insulated from facts about psychology and neuroscience. We argue that, like other mechanistic sciences, neuroeconomics will earn its keep to the extent that it either reconfigures how economists think about decision-making or how neuroscientists think about brain mechanisms underlying (...) behaviour. We discuss some ways that the search for mechanisms can bring about such top-down and bottom-up revision, and we consider some examples from the recent neuroeconomics literature of how varieties of progress of this sort might be achieved. (shrink)
The 1994 US spectrum auction is now a paradigmatic case of the successful use of microeconomic theory for policy-making. We use a detailed analysis of it to review standard accounts in philosophy of science of how idealized models are connected to messy reality. We show that in order to understand what made the design of the spectrum auction successful, a new such account is required, and we present it here. Of especial interest is the light this sheds on the issue (...) of progress in economics. In particular, it enables us to get clear on exactly what has been progressing, and on exactly what theory has – and has not – contributed to that. This in turn has important implications for just what it is about economic theory that we should value. (shrink)
Julian Reiss correctly identified a trilemma about economic models: we cannot maintain that they are false, but nevertheless explain and that only true accounts explain. In this reply we give reasons to reject the second premise ? that economic models explain. Intuitions to the contrary should be distrusted.
Judgments of well-being across different circumstances and spheres of life exhibit a staggering diversity. Depending on the situation, we use different standards of well-being and even treat it as being constituted by different things. This is true of scientific studies as well as of everyday life. How should we interpret this diversity? I consider three ways of doing so: first, denying the legitimacy of this diversity, second, treating well-being as semantically invariant but differentially realizable, and, third, adopting contextualist semantics for (...) well-being expressions. I reject the first option on the grounds that it is unable to make sense of much of everyday and scientific linguistic practices, and also because it makes the category of well-being insignificant or even otiose for practical purposes. We should thus pick between the second and the third options. I argue that contextualism about well-being is more plausible and faces fewer objections than the differential realization view. I conclude with a discussion of other features of contextualism: it does not imply that well-being is relative to individual taste, it need not result in eliminativism about well-being, nor in scepticism about a general theory of well-being. It does not commit us to an “anything goes” approach, nor does it threaten anarchy and miscommunication. (shrink)
First-person reports are central to the study of subjective well-being in contemporary psychology, but there is much disagreement about exactly what sort of first-person reports should be used. This paper examines an influential proposal to replace all first-person reports of life satisfaction with introspective reports of affect. I argue against the reasoning behind this proposal, and propose instead a new strategy for deciding what measure is appropriate.
In Valuing Health, Dan Hausman argues that well-being is not measurable, at least not in the way that science and policy would require. His argument depends on a demanding conception of well-being and on a pessimistic verdict upon the existing measures of subjective well-being. Neither of these reasons, I argue, warrant as much skepticism as Hausman professes.
This article is a mutual introduction of the science of well-being to philosophy of science and an explanation of how the two disciplines can benefit each other. In the process, I argue that the science of well-being is not helpfully viewed as a social or a natural, but rather as a mixed, science. Hence, its methodology will have to attend to its specific features. I discuss two of its methodological problems: justifying the role of values, and validating measures. I suggest (...) that tackling them calls for developing mid-level rather than high theories of well-being. (shrink)
Rational choice modeling originating in economics is sweeping across many areas of social science. This paper examines a popular methodological proposal for integrating formal models from game theory with more traditional narrative explanations of historical phenomena, known as “analytic narratives”. Under what conditions are we justified in thinking that an analytic narrative provides a good explanation? In this paper I criticize the existing criteria and provide a set of my own. Along the way, I address the critique of analytic narratives (...) by Jon Elster. (shrink)
We define the notion of armchair science – roughly, a concentration on the development of idealized theory with only a loose relation to possible empirical application, and in particular with no specific real-world target in mind. Work in this style is both very influential and very widespread in contemporary social and biological science. We propose that it be subjected to what we call efficiency analysis. To this end, we examine in detail the role of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game in explaining (...) the live-and-let-live system in World War One trenches. It yields, together with other considerations, a strong prima facie case that armchair science fails the efficiency analysis, in other words that it absorbs too many scientific resources that would be better spent elsewhere. Philosophy of science should be at the forefront of highlighting this important issue. Yet for several reasons, which we explain, existing philosophical work on modeling has fallen short in this critical role. (shrink)
Do the new sciences of well-being provide knowledge that respects the nature of well-being? This book written from the perspective of philosophy of science articulates how this field can speak to well-being proper and can do so in a way that respects the demands of objectivity and measurement.