On ceteris paribus laws in economics (and elsewhere)
Why do social sciences matter to each other?
Keywords:ceteris paribus, abstraction, concretisation, logical strength, interdisciplinarity, socio-economic policy
Stipulating universal propositions with a ceteris paribus clause is normal practice in science and especially in economics. Yet there are several problems associated with the use of ceteris paribus clauses in theorising and in policy matters. This paper first investigates three questions: how can ceteris paribus clauses be non-vacuous? How can ceteris paribus laws be true? And how can they help in formulating successful policy interventions in a diversity of contexts? It turns out that ceteris paribus clauses are not always used legitimately. They are meant to fence off a theory from disturbing factors, but economists who do not specify the clause well enough tend to fence variables in rather than off. In such cases, it would be better to use theoretical abstraction, which is something very different from the use of ceteris paribus clauses. However, abstract theorising conceptually leads one away from the concrete detail of real world situations in which policies take place. Hence, a fourth question arises: how can policy interventions be properly designed on the basis of abstract laws? To answer this question, I defend interdisciplinarity in concept choice.