Models and Explanation

In Lorenzo Magnani & Tommaso Wayne Bertolotti (eds.), Springer Handbook of Model-Based Science. Springer. pp. 103-118 (2017)
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Abstract

Detailed examinations of scientific practice have revealed that the use of idealized models in the sciences is pervasive. These models play a central role in not only the investigation and prediction of phenomena, but in their received scientific explanations as well. This has led philosophers of science to begin revising the traditional philosophical accounts of scientific explanation in order to make sense of this practice. These new model-based accounts of scientific explanation, however, raise a number of key questions: Can the fictions and falsehoods inherent in the modeling practice do real explanatory work? Do some highly abstract and mathematical models exhibit a noncausal form of scientific explanation? How can one distinguish an exploratory "how-possibly" model explanation from a genuine "how-actually" model explanation? Do modelers face tradeoffs such that a model that is optimized for yielding explanatory insight, for example, might fail to be the most predictively accurate, and vice versa? This chapter explores the various answers that have been given to these questions.

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Alisa Bokulich
Boston University

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