Re: [OPE] epistemological and scientific questions

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 06:08:46 EST

on 2008-12-13 15:11 Howard Engelskirchen wrote:
> I suspect neither of the formulations here, or in the post of dogan's
> referred to, fully achieve what we're after.

I am not sure what you are after, Howard. I was only trying to clarify
the meaning of a "scientifically informed political position". To do so
I also thought it is necessary to clarify how the scientific method
works in general.

> But I agree the idea of 'models' is tricky. We can think of the
> double helix as providing a model for our understanding of dna, and
> there is nothing wrong with that, but too easily, and especially in
> political economy, models get expressed, as here, not as corresponding
> to the way the world is, but as heuristic instruments that guide
> prediction.

No, I think your last distinction is incorrect. Scientific theories are
not "corresponding" to the way the world is, but rather *model* the
mechanisms that generate the empirical data we can observe, and
therefore they *guide* predictions too. Recall that the Mendelian theory
of the gene was formulated before the discovery of the double helix.
However, the theory predicted, among other things, that there should be
some physical entity passing from parent to offspring. This was
subsequently confirmed.

In other words, the theory modeled the mechanisms of evolution and
reliably predicted several observations. Of course, the theory was made
more accurate than Gregor Mendel's original ideas, as more data was
gathered, new concepts were formulated and new tools were used.

> On this approach, the model may be coherent, but it isn't true, and we
> can leave out or introduce features according to model driven
> (conceptual) imperatives.

To say that the model --- i.e. a scientific theory --- is "true" is a
category mistake. Is an airplane model "true"? No, it is more or less

//Dave Z
ope mailing list
Received on Sun Dec 14 06:10:40 2008

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