The Exploratory Role of Idealizations and Limiting Cases in Models

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Shech, Elay; Gelfert, Axel
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In this article we argue that idealizations and limiting cases in models play an exploratory role in science. Four senses of exploration are presented: exploration of the structure and representational capacities of theory; proof-of-principle demonstrations; potential explanations; and exploring the suitability of target systems. We illustrate our claims through three case studies, including the Aharonov-Bohm effect, the emergence of anyons and fractional quantum statistics, and the Hubbard model of the Mott phase transitions. We end by reflecting on how our case studies and claims compare to accounts of idealization in the philosophy of science literature such as Michael Weisberg’s three-fold taxonomy.