On ceteris paribus laws in economics (and elsewhere)

Why do social sciences matter to each other?


  • Menno Rol University of Groningen and University of Twente, The Netherlands




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.

Author Biography

Menno Rol, University of Groningen and University of Twente, The Netherlands

Menno Rol teaches philosophy of social science at the University of Groningen, department of sociology, and didactics of economics at the centre for teacher training (ELAN) at the University of Twente, both in the Netherlands. He researches social scientific concept formation and the relationship between theory and policy.




How to Cite

Rol, M. (2012). On ceteris paribus laws in economics (and elsewhere): Why do social sciences matter to each other?. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 5(2), 27–53. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v5i2.104