, Volume 190, Issue 8, pp 1337–1350

Idealisations in normative models


DOI: 10.1007/s11229-012-0166-z

Cite this article as:
Colyvan, M. Synthese (2013) 190: 1337. doi:10.1007/s11229-012-0166-z


In this paper I discuss the kinds of idealisations invoked in normative theories—logic, epistemology, and decision theory. I argue that very often the so-called norms of rationality are in fact mere idealisations invoked to make life easier. As such, these idealisations are not too different from various idealisations employed in scientific modelling. Examples of the latter include: fluids are incompressible (in fluid mechanics), growth rates are constant (in population ecology), and the gravitational influence of distant bodies can be ignored (in celestial mechanics). Thinking of logic, epistemology, and decision theory as normative models employing various idealisations of these kinds, changes the way we approach the justification of the models in question.


Formal epistemologyIdealisationsNormativityDecision theory

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney Centre for the Foundations of ScienceUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia