Advertisement

Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 725–740 | Cite as

The strategy of model-based science

  • Peter Godfrey-Smith
Original paper

Introduction

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...

Keywords

Target System Mathematical Object Semantic View Theoretical Science Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to all those present at the Penn conference, but especially to Michael Weisberg and Deena Skolnick, for comments on these ideas.

References

  1. Buss L (1987) The evolution of individuality. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  2. Cartwright N (1999) The dappled world: a study of the boundaries of science. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Downes S (1992) The importance of models in theorizing: a deflationary semantic view. In: Hull D, Forbes M, Okruhlik K (eds) PSA 1992, vol. 1. Philosophy of Science Association, East lansing, pp 142–153Google Scholar
  4. French S, Ladyman J (1999) Reinflating the semantic approach. Intl Stud Philos Sci 13:103–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Galison P (1997) Image and logic. A material culture of microphysics. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Gentner D (2002) Mental models, psychology of. In: Bates P, Smelser N (eds) International encyclopedia of the cognitive and behavioral sciences. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 9683–9687Google Scholar
  7. Giere R (1988) Explaining science: a cognitive approach. Chicago University Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  8. Giere (1999) Using models to represent reality. In: Magnani L, Nersessian NJ, Thagard P (eds) Model-based reasoning in scientific discovery. Kluwer/Plenum, New York, pp 41–57Google Scholar
  9. Godfrey-Smith P (1996) complexity and the function of mind in nature. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Godfrey-Smith P, Lewontin RC (1993) The dimensions of selection. Philos Sci 60:373–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Griesemer J (1990) Material models in biology. In: PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, vol. 2, pp 79–93Google Scholar
  12. Hesse M (1966) Models and analogies in science. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre DameGoogle Scholar
  13. Johnson-Laird P (1983) Mental models: towards a cognitive science of language, inference, and consciousness. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  14. Kuhn TS (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd ed. Chicago University Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  15. Levins R (1962) Theory of fitness in a heterogeneous environment. I. The fitness set and adaptive function. Amer Nat 96:361–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Levins R (1963) Theory of fitness in a hetergeneous environment. II. Developmental flexibility and niche selection. Amer Nat 97:75–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Levins R (1966) The strategy of model-building in population biology. Amer Sci 54:421–31Google Scholar
  18. Levins R (1968) Evolution in changing environments. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  19. Lewis DL (1984) Putnam’s paradox. Austr J Philos 62:221–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewontin RC (1963) Models, mathematics, and metaphors. Synthese 15:222–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lloyd EA (1988) The structure and confirmation of evolutionary theory. Greenwood Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  22. Marcus G (1997) The algebraic mind. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  23. Maynard Smith J, Szathmáry E (1995) The major transitions in evolution. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  24. Michod R (1999) Darwinian dynamics: evolutionary transitions in fitness and individuality. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  25. Morgan M, Morrison M (1999) Models as mediators: perspectives on natural and social science. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  26. Nersessian N (1999) Model-based reasoning in conceptual change. In: Magani L, Nersessian N, Thagard P (eds) Model-based reasoning in scientific discovery. Kluwer/Plenum, New York, pp 5–22Google Scholar
  27. Putnam H (1982) Reason, truth and history. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  28. Queller D (1997) Cooperators since life began. Quart Rev Biol 72:184–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Suppe F (ed.) (1977) The structure of scientific theories. 2nd ed. University of Illinois PressGoogle Scholar
  30. Suppes P (1960) A comparison of the meaning and uses of models in mathematics and the empirical sciences. Synthese 12:287–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Thompson-Jones M (2006) Models and the semantic view. Philos Sci (Forthcoming) (Proceedings of PSA 2004)Google Scholar
  32. Van Fraassen B (1980) The scientific image. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  33. Weisberg, M (forthcoming) Who is a modeler? Brit J Philos Sci, to appearGoogle Scholar
  34. Weisberg M (2003) When less is more. PhD dissertation, Philosophy Department, Stanford UniversityGoogle Scholar
  35. Wimsatt WC (1987) False models as a means to truer theories. In Nitecki M, Hoffmann A (eds) Neutral models in biology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 23–55Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations