Three Frank Questions to Discipline Your Theorizing

40 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2012 Last revised: 29 Apr 2013

See all articles by Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B. Klein

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 28, 2013


Social science fledglings can improve their theorizing by focusing on three questions: Theory of what?, Why should we care?, and What merit in your explanation? This suite of questions takes the spine of theory to be explanation. Explanation has a counterpart in the thing to be explained, the explanandum. The three questions have been deployed in criticizing the tendency in economics to pass off mere model-building as theorizing. I summarize that deployment and then offer the three questions as means to discipline one’s theorizing. Adam Smith helps us see the theorizer as something of an artist. The questions help us appreciate a work by James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer. I also use a coauthored work of my own to explore the questions and relate them to creativity in theorizing (“abduction”).

Keywords: theory, theorizing, explanation, explanandum, understanding

JEL Classification: B40, B49, Y8

Suggested Citation

Klein, Daniel B., Three Frank Questions to Discipline Your Theorizing (April 28, 2013). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 12-44. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel B. Klein (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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