Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 623-645

First online:

Forty Years of ‘The Strategy’: Levins on Model Building and Idealization

  • Michael WeisbergAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania Email author 

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This paper is an interpretation and defense of Richard Levins’ “The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology,” which has been extremely influential among biologists since its publication 40 years ago. In this article, Levins confronted some of the deepest philosophical issues surrounding modeling and theory construction. By way of interpretation, I discuss each of Levins’ major philosophical themes: the problem of complexity, the brute-force approach, the existence and consequence of tradeoffs, and robustness analysis. I argue that Levins’ article is concerned, at its core, with justifying the use of multiple, idealized models in population biology.


Richard Levins Tradeoffs Models Model building Idealization Robustness Population biology Theoretical ecology Complex systems