, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 725-740
Date: 13 Dec 2006

The strategy of model-based science

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My title refers to Richard Levins’ famous paper on models in population biology (1966). Here Levins presented his three-way distinction between kinds of model-building, and also introduced a set of more fundamental ideas about trade-offs that constrain and guide scientific work. For Levins, these trade-offs derive from the relationships between three different theoretical goals: realism, precision, and generality.

The talk of “strategies” within Levins’ paper concerns alternative strategies within the enterprise of model-building. My topic here is broader; I will treat models and model-building as characteristic of one particular approach to theorizing, a strategy of model-based science.

The ideas presented here are indebted to Michael Weisberg’s work (forthcoming, 2003), and to discussions with him at Stanford. They are also indebted to a scattered tradition of other philosophical and scientific work, especially by Levins, Giere, and Wimsatt. The aim of the paper is to give ...

Presented at a conference on Richard Levins at the University of Pennsylvania, 2005.