Models as signs: extending Kralemann and Lattman’s proposal on modeling models within Peirce’s theory of signs

Synthese 196 (12):5115-5136 (2019)
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In recent decades, philosophers of science have devoted considerable efforts to understand what models represent. One popular position is that models represent fictional situations. Another position states that, though models often involve fictional elements, they represent real objects or scenarios. Though these two positions may seem to be incompatible, I believe it is possible to reconcile them. Using a threefold distinction between different signs proposed by Peirce, I develop an argument based on a proposal recently made by Kralemann and Lattman (in Synthese 190:3397–3420, 2013) that shows that the two aforementioned positions can be reconciled by distinguishing different ways in which a model representation can be used. In particular, on the basis of Peirce’s distinction between icons, indices and symbols, I argue that models can sometimes function as icons, sometimes as indexes and sometimes as symbols, depending on the context in which they are considered and the use that they are developed for because they all have iconic, indexical and symbolic features. In addition, I show that conceiving models as signs enables us to develop an account of scientific representation that meets the main desiderata that Shech (in Synthese 192:3463–3485, 2015) presents.
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