Chains of Reference in Computer Simulations

FMSH Working Papers 51:1-32 (2013)
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This paper proposes an extensionalist analysis of computer simulations (CSs). It puts the emphasis not on languages nor on models, but on symbols, on their extensions, and on their various ways of referring. It shows that chains of reference of symbols in CSs are multiple and of different kinds. As they are distinct and diverse, these chains enable different kinds of remoteness of reference and different kinds of validation for CSs. Although some methodological papers have already underlined the role of these various relationships of reference in CSs and of cross-validations, this diversity is still overlooked in the epistemological literature on CSs. As a consequence, a particular outcome of this analytical view is an ability to classify existing epistemological theses on CSs according to what their authors choose to select and put at the forefront: either the extensions of symbols, or the symbol-types, or the symbol-tokens, or the internal denotational hierarchies of the CS or the reference of these hierarchies to external denotational hierarchies. Through the adoption of this extensionalist view, it also becomes possible to explain more precisely the reasons why some complete reduction of CSs to classical epistemic paradigms such as “experiment” or “theoretical argument” remains doubtful. On this last point, in particular, this paper is in agreement with what many epistemologists already have acknowledged.
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