Modeling without models

Philosophical Studies 172 (3):781-798 (2015)
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Modeling is an important scientific practice, yet it raises significant philosophical puzzles. Models are typically idealized, and they are often explored via imaginative engagement and at a certain “distance” from empirical reality. These features raise questions such as what models are and how they relate to the world. Recent years have seen a growing discussion of these issues, including a number of views that treat modeling in terms of indirect representation and analysis. Indirect views treat the model as a bona fide object, specified by the modeler and used to represent and reason about some portion of the concrete empirical world. On some indirect views, model systems are abstract entities, such as mathematical structures, while on other views they are concrete hypothetical things. Here I assess these views and offer a novel account of models. I argue that regarding models as abstracta results in some significant tensions with the practice of modeling, especially in areas where non-mathematical models are common. Furthermore, viewing models as concrete hypotheticals raises difficult questions about model-world relations. The view I argue for treats models as direct, albeit simplified, representations of targets in the world. I close by suggesting a treatment of model-world relations that draws on a recent work by Stephen Yablo concerning the notion of partial truth



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Arnon Levy
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Citations of this work

The New Fiction View of Models.Fiora Salis - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (3):717-742.
Idealization and abstraction: refining the distinction.Arnon Levy - 2018 - Synthese 198 (Suppl 24):5855-5872.
Scientific representation.Roman Frigg & James Nguyen - 2016 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Model Organisms are Not (Theoretical) Models.Arnon Levy & Adrian Currie - 2015 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (2):327-348.

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References found in this work

How the laws of physics lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Aboutness.Stephen Yablo - 2014 - Oxford: Princeton University Press.

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