, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 11-27
Date: 19 Feb 2012

The Structure of Idealization in Biological Theories: The Case of the Wright-Fisher Model

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Abstract

In this paper we present a new framework of idealization in biology. We characterize idealizations as a network of counterfactual and hypothetical conditionals that can exhibit different “degrees of contingency”. We use this idea to say that, in departing more or less from the actual world, idealizations can serve numerous epistemic, methodological or heuristic purposes within scientific research. We defend that, in part, this structure explains why idealizations, despite being deformations of reality, are so successful in scientific practice. For illustrative purposes, we provide an example from population genetics, the Wright-Fisher Model.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10838-012-9203-3.