Permissible Idealizations for the Purpose of Prediction

Forthcoming, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Abstract: Every model leaves out or distorts some factors that are causally connected to its target phenomenon—the phenomenon that it seeks to predict or explain. If we want to make predictions, and we want to base decisions on those predictions, what is it safe to omit or to simplify, and what ought a causal model to describe fully and correctly? A schematic answer: the factors that matter are those that make a difference to the target phenomenon. There are several ways to understand differencemaking. This paper advances a view as to which is the most relevant to the forecaster and the decision-maker. It turns out that the right notion of differencemaking for thinking about idealization in prediction is also the right notion for thinking about idealization in explanation; this suggests a carefully circumscribed version of Hempel's famous thesis that there is a symmetry between explanation and prediction.

See a PDF version of the paper.