The fictional character of scientific models

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

Many philosophers have drawn parallels between scientific models and fictions. This chapter is concerned with a recent version of this analogy, which compares models to the imagined characters of fictional literature. Though versions of the position differ, the shared idea is that modeling essentially involves imagining concrete systems analogously to the way that we imagine characters and events in response to works of fiction. Advocates of this view argue that imagining concrete systems plays an ineliminable role in the practice of modeling that cannot be captured by other accounts. The approach thus leaves open what we should say about the ontological status of model systems, and here advocates differ among themselves, defending a variety of realist or anti-realist positions. I argue that this debate over the ontological status of model systems is misguided. If model systems are the kinds of objects fictional realists posit, they can play no role in explaining the epistemology of modeling for an advocate of this approach. So they are at best superfluous. Defenders of the approach should focus on developing an account of the epistemological role of imagining model systems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Scientific Imagination
EditorsArnon Levy, Peter Godfrey Smith
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780190212308
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • scientific models
  • imagination
  • fictionalism
  • fictional characters
  • make-believe
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • Roman Frigg
  • Arnon Levy
  • Adam Toon


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