IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/taf/jecmet/v15y2008i1p69-97.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Idealization, abstraction, and the policy relevance of economic theories

Author

Listed:
  • Menno Rol

Abstract

In theories that idealize the object of study, falsity is inserted somehow. However, the actual propositions by which the idealization takes place need not be false at all. An example from physics illustrates that the Ideal Gas Law and Boyle's Law are respective idealizations of the van der Waals Law. The idealizational procedures involved in reasoning from the latter to the former can be repeated at a higher level of abstraction than that of the laws as we know these from physics textbooks. Thus, idealization and abstraction can be seen as relatively independent methods of reasoning, the one to be carried out with or without the other at the same time. This underlines Uskali Maki's taxonomy, which shows that horizontal isolations in economic reasoning form a procedure completely different from vertical isolations. In contrast, however, to his taxonomy, I propose to define idealization as horizontal isolation. The lessons for the policy relevance of science - and of economics in particular - are that the use of ideal models does not necessarily imply a total lack of their external validity. Further, I show that abstraction in theorizing, under certain conditions, may increase the policy relevance of theories, rather than that it is decreased. Abstract theories tend to count the actual social world - where policymakers try to intervene - among their models more easily than concrete theories. Finally, this paper also deals with one very problematic aspect of the common use of clauses in order to hedge economics hypotheses. Many idealizational clauses have a propensity for imprecise reference, due to which it is impossible to judge the external validity of economic models. I shall indicate how this problem relates to issues of interdisciplinarity in social science.

Suggested Citation

  • Menno Rol, 2008. "Idealization, abstraction, and the policy relevance of economic theories," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(1), pages 69-97.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:15:y:2008:i:1:p:69-97
    DOI: 10.1080/13501780801915509
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13501780801915509
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    idealization; abstraction; ceteris paribus; model theory; policy; B21; B41; C90; L19;

    JEL classification:

    • B21 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Microeconomics
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • L19 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Other

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:15:y:2008:i:1:p:69-97. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chris Longhurst). General contact details of provider: http://www.tandfonline.com/RJEC20 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.