Modelling and Representation
Models are of central importance in many scientific contexts. We study models and thereby discover features of the phenomena they stand for. For this to be possible models must be representational: they can instruct us about the nature of reality only if they represent the selected parts or aspects of the world we investigate. This raises important questions. What are scientific models? How do they represent? And how do they relate to scientific theories?
The currently dominant view, the structuralist version of the so-called semantic view of theories, takes models to be set-theoretical structures and construes representation as an isomorphism between model and reality. I offer an account of what the problem of representation is and then argue that the semantic conception suffers from a number of serious shortcomings: it cannot account for misrepresentation; it cannot account of idealisations that are crucial in models; it offers no tenable explanation of how mathematics is applied to the empirical world, and it is blind towards the pluralism of representational styles in scientific practice.
In response to these problems, I develop a view what has become known as the ‘fiction view of models’. Rather than being set-theoretical structures, models are conceptualised as fictional entities of the same kind as, say, Tolkien’s Middle Earth. To avoid metaphysical tangles, I develop a nominalist account of scientific fictions based on Pretence Theory and argue that this account is able to meet a number of important criteria of adequacy: the formulation of identity conditions, the explanation of property attribution, the stipulation of a semantics for comparative statements, the provision of a theory of truth in fiction, and the formulation of an epistemology of modelling. This view of models is complemented by an account of scientific representation that does not build on isomorphism and instead analyses scientific representation as being based on the interplay of denotation, exemplification, keying-up and imputation. I develop this account together with James Nguyen and we call it the ‘DEKI account of representation’, indicating its key components.
I take a deflationary view on recent claims that computer simulations raise a host of new philosophical issues and call into question our philosophical understanding of the semantics of models and scientific theories. These claims are overblown. Far from demanding a new philosophy of science, the use of computer simulations raises few new philosophical problems and does not necessitate a fundamental rethinking of our philosophical views about models.
Models and representation:
‘The Turn of the Valve: Representing with Material Models’, European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8(2), 2018, 205-224, with James Nguyen. (The paper is also available here.)
‘Of Barrels and Pipes: Representation-As in Art and Science’, forthcoming in Otávio Bueno, Gerorge Darby, Steven French and Dean Rickles (eds.): Thinking about Science, Reflecting on Art. London: Routledge, 2017, with James Nguyen.
‘Scientific Representation is Representation As’, in Hsiang-Ke Chao and Julian Reiss (eds.): Philosophy of Science in Practice: Nancy Cartwright and the Nature of Scientific Reasoning, Synthese Library, Volume 379, Springer: Berlin and New York, 2017, 149-179, with James Nguyen.
‘Scientific Representation and the Semantic View of Theories’, Theoria 55, 2006, 49-65.
The fiction view of models:
‘Models and Fiction’,Synthese 172(2), 2010, 251-268.
‘Fiction and Scientific Representation’, in Roman Frigg and Matthew Hunter (eds.): Beyond Mimesis and Nominalism: Representation in Art and Science, Berlin and New York: Springer, 2010, 97-138.
‘Clever Fetishists’, Art History 36(3), 2013, 664-69.
‘Fiction in Science’, in John Woods (ed.): Fictions and Models: New Essays, Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 2010, 247-287.
The application of mathematics in science:
- ‘Mathematics is Not the Only Language in the Book of Nature’, forthcoming in Synthese, with James Nguyen.
Models and imagination:
- ‘Capturing the Scientific Imagination’, to be published in Peter Godfrey-Smith and Arnon Levy (eds.): The Scientific Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, with Fiora Salis.
Models and computer simulation:
- ‘The Philosophy of Simulation: Hot New Issues or Same Old Stew?’ , Synthese169(3), 2009, 593–613, with Julian Reiss.
Surveys and encyclopaedia entries:
‘Models and Representation’, in Lorenzo Magnani and Tommaso Bertolotti (eds.): Springer Handbook of Model-Based Science, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London and New York: Springer, 2017, 49-102, with James Nguyen. (The publisher insisted on having numbered citations. A more user-friendly version of the paper with author-date citations can be found here.)
‘Models in Physics’, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (web version).
‘Scientific Models’, in: Sahorta Sarkar and Jessica Pfeifer (eds.): The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge 2006, 740-749, with Stephan Hartmann.