Models as make-believe

In Roman Frigg & Matthew Hunter (eds.), Beyond Mimesis and Convention: Representation in Art and Science. Boston Studies in Philosophy of Science (2010)
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Abstract

In this paper I propose an account of representation for scientific models based on Kendall Walton’s ‘make-believe’ theory of representation in art. I first set out the problem of scientific representation and respond to a recent argument due to Craig Callender and Jonathan Cohen, which aims to show that the problem may be easily dismissed. I then introduce my account of models as props in games of make-believe and show how it offers a solution to the problem. Finally, I demonstrate an important advantage my account has over other theories of scientific representation. All existing theories analyse scientific representation in terms of relations, such as similarity or denotation. By contrast, my account does not take representation in modelling to be essentially relational. For this reason, it can accommodate a group of models often ignored in discussions of scientific representation, namely models which are representational but which represent no actual object.

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Adam Toon
University of Exeter

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