Making the abstract concrete: The role of norms and values in experimental modeling

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 46:3-10 (2014)
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Experimental modeling is the construction of theoretical models hand in hand with experimental activity. As explained in Section 1, experimental modeling starts with claims about phenomena that use abstract concepts, concepts whose conditions of realization are not yet specified; and it ends with a concrete model of the phenomenon, a model that can be tested against data. This paper argues that this process from abstract concepts to concrete models involves judgments of relevance, which are irreducibly normative. In Section 2, we show, on the basis of several case studies, how these judgments contribute to the determination of the conditions of realization of the abstract concepts and, at the same time, of the quantities that characterize the phenomenon under study. Then, in Section 3, we compare this view on modeling with other approaches that also have acknowledged the role of relevance judgments in science. To conclude, in Section 4, we discuss the possibility of a plurality of relevance judgments and introduce a distinction between locally and generally relevant factors



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Author Profiles

Bas C. Van Fraassen
San Francisco State University
Isabelle Peschard
San Francisco State University

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