The ontology of theoretical modelling: models as make-believe

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Synthese, ISSN: 0039-7857, Vol: 172, Issue: 2, Page: 301-315

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Toon, Adam
Springer Nature; Springer (Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)
Social Sciences; Arts and Humanities
article description
The descriptions and theoretical laws scientists write down when they model a system are often false of any real system. And yet we commonly talk as if there were objects that satisfy the scientists' assumptions and as if we may learn about their properties. Many attempt to make sense of this by taking the scientists' descriptions and theoretical laws to define abstract or fictional entities. In this paper, I propose an alternative account of theoretical modelling that draws upon Kendall Walton's 'make-believe' theory of representation in art. I argue that this account allows us to understand theoretical modelling without positing any object of which scientists' modelling assumptions are true. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009.