Science and Fiction: Analysing the Concept of Fiction in Science and its Limits

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Barwich, Ann-Sophie
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This paper, situated at the intersection between the philosophy of science, philosophy of language and epistemology, considers the role of the concept of fiction in science. It aims to explore the main problem that is addressed by this concept, the reference of scientific representations, particularly in contemporary debates about the construction and the function of models in science (Morgan and Morrison 1999, Suarez 2009), and to examine the tenability of the concept for this purpose. Although there is a substantial and growing body of literature on the role of fiction in science, to date there is little analysis on the variety of uses that concern this concept and almost none that actually considers parallel and paradigmatic discussions about the concept of fiction in literary theory. This is surprising considering that within the comparison of scientific modelling with fiction, genuine fiction such as Sherlock Holmes or Madame Bovary find entry into the debate (Frigg 2002; Suarez 2009). Instead, debate focuses on the implications that the concept of fiction ought to provide for the understanding of scientific objects and their representations. To contextualise these aims and situate the contribution the present argument will make in the wider literature, this paper will do six things. It will first (1.) provide a brief overview of the role and the interest in the concept of fiction in the contemporary philosophy of science. By drawing a comparison with parallel uses of fiction in literature theory, it will then (2.) provide an analysis of this concept in the philosophy of science, revealing the variety of its uses, and (3.) highlight the main problem that motivates this paper’s comparison of scientific modelling with fiction. Following this comparison, it will be clear that the concept of fiction in both discourses, the philosophy of science and literary theory, refers back to a commonly acknowledged problem. The significance of this problem in both discourses, which concerns the distinction between fictional and denoting representations, will then provide the basis on which this paper (4.) proposes an alternative approach. The paper ends with (5.) a reflection on a functional distinction between fictional and scientific representations, which is (6.) not based in the structure of representations but determined by the form of enquiry.