Models-As-Fables: An Alternative to the Standard Rationale for Using Formal Models in Political Science

Models-As-Fables: An Alternative to the Standard Rationale for Using Formal Models in Political Science

By James Johnson, University of Rochester

Political scientists invoke the standard rationale to justify making and using formal models. It goes like this: (1) we rely on formal models to generate predictions, (2) we treat these predictions as empirical hypotheses, and (3) we seek to test these hypotheses against evidence derived from the “real world.” I show that this interpretation of formal models as directly empirical is inadequate just insofar as it fails to capture the way we actually use them. I then offer an alternative rationale for making and using formal models. Specifically, I argue that we use models, like we use fables, for conceptual purposes.

 

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