Model Explanation Versus Model-Induced Explanation

Insa Lawler (Corresponding author), Emily Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Scientists appeal to models when explaining phenomena. Such explanations are often dubbed model explanations or model-based explanations (short: ME). But what are the precise conditions for ME? Are ME special explanations? In our paper, we first rebut two definitions of ME and specify a more promising one. Based on this analysis, we single out a related conception that is concerned with explanations that are induced from working with a model. We call them ‘model-induced explanations’ (MIE). Second, we study three paradigmatic cases of alleged ME. We argue that all of them are MIE, upon closer examination. Third, we argue that this undermines the building consensus that model explanations are special explanations that, e.g., challenge the factivity of explanation. Instead, it suggests that what is special about models in science is the epistemology behind how models induce explanations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1049-1074
Number of pages26
JournalFoundations of Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


Discussions with colleagues and advisors contributed to shaping the view that we defend in this article. We’re grateful to (in alphabetical order) Mark Alfano, Finnur Dellsén, Anna-Maria Asunta Eder, Catherine Elgin, Benjamin Feintzeig, Roman Frigg, Kareem Khalifa, Christian Nimtz, Juha Saatsi, Henrik Sova, Thomas Spitzley, Michael Strevens, Raphael van Riel, Kate Vredenburgh, and the participants of Thomas Spitzley’s and Christian Nimtz’s research groups. We also thank the audiences in Aarhus, Atlanta, Barcelona, Bochum, Bordeaux, Exeter, Ghent, Lund, Pärnu, and Seattle, as well as three anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms and suggestions. Insa Lawler gratefully acknowledges that part of her research for this article was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation for the project ’A Study in Explanatory Power’, by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for a research stay at New York University (2015–2016), and by an Emmy Noether Grant from the German Research Council (DFG), Reference No. BR 5210/1-1.

FundersFunder number
California Department of Fish and Game
New York University
Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftBR 5210/1-1
Volkswagen Foundation


    • Explanation
    • Idealization
    • Model
    • Model-based Explanation


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