Explanation as prediction: the raison d’être of formal models in Political Science

Enzo Lenine


Formal models constitute an essential part of contemporary Political Science. Their recent history is tightly tied to the developments of rational choice theory (RCT), which is considered to be the only deductive theory in the social sciences. This unique character, especially its manifestation through mathematical symbolisms, has caused profound schisms and criticisms in the discipline. Formal models have constantly been accused of being built on unrealistic assumptions of human behaviour and social structure, rendering as a result either trivial predictions or no empirical prediction at all. Nevertheless much of these charges are based on a misunderstanding about model design and the essence of explanation. Therefore, in this paper I address the philosophical and theoretical debates on rational choice modelling, drawing attention to how formal models are designed and what kind of explanations their offer. In my understanding, models produce predictions about general phenomena, and hence should not be judged on the basis of cherry-picked cases. Local triumphs by the opponents of modelling and RCT do not suffice to render models useless or false. Rather, their explanatory capacity should be judged on the terms of their general predictions and explanations. 


models; methodology; explanation; rational choice theory; political theory

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Direitos autorais 2018 Enzo Lenine Nunes Batista Oliveira Lima

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