The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Models and Theory

  • Vivian Walsh
Reference work entry


Ernest Nagel once remarked that ‘[t]he only point that can be affirmed with confidence is that a model for a theory is not the theory itself’ (Nagel 1961, p. 116). And R.B. Braithwaite warned against the danger that: ‘The theory will be identified with a model for it …’ (Braithwaite 1953, p. 90). It will be argued here that Nagel, Braithwaite and the school of which they were representative were right to insist on a model/theory distinction, but wrong as to the nature of that distinction and the reasons for adopting it. The now defunct school referred to was christened by Hilary Putnam the ‘Received View’ (Putnam 1962). The Received View in the philosophy of science was (roughly) the logical positivist interpretation of science. It involved a model/theory distinction in an essential way. Logical positivist ideas penetrated economic theory and lived on there long after the fall of the Received View. The latter, after more than 30 years of dominance, came under such severe attacks that by the end of the 1960s, as Frederick Suppe later remarked, these attacks ‘had been so successful that most philosophers of science had repudiated the Received View’ (Suppe 1977, p. 618).

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vivian Walsh
    • 1
  1. 1.