What’s Wrong with Social Simulations?

The Monist 97 (3):359-377 (2014)
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Abstract

This paper tries to answer the question why the epistemic value of so many social simulations is questionable. I consider the epistemic value of a social simulation as questionable if it contributes neither directly nor indirectly to the understanding of empirical reality. To examine this question, two classical social simulations are analyzed with respect to their possible epistemic justification: Schelling’s neighborhood segregation model and Axelrod’s reiterated Prisoner’s Dilemma simulations of the evolution of cooperation. It is argued that Schelling’s simulation is useful because it can be related to empirical reality, while Axelrod’s simulations and those of his followers cannot and thus that their scientific value remains doubtful. I relate this findingto the background beliefs of modelers about the superiority of the modeling method as expressed in Joshua Epstein’s keynote address “Why model?”.

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Eckhart Arnold
Bavarian Academy of Sciences And Humanities

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