Approximation, idealization, and laws of nature

Synthese 118 (2):229-256 (1999)
Abstract
Traditional theories construe approximate truth or truthlikeness as a measure of closeness to facts, singular facts, and idealization as an act of either assuming zero of otherwise very small differences from facts or imagining ideal conditions under which scientific laws are either approximately true or will be so when the conditions are relaxed. I first explain the serious but not insurmountable difficulties for the theories of approximation, and then argue that more serious and perhaps insurmountable difficulties for the theory of idealization force us to sever its close tie to approximation. This leads to an appreciation of lawlikeness as a measure of closeness to laws, which I argue is the real measure of idealization whose main purpose is to carve nature at its joints.
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