Biology and Philosophy

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

The strategy of model-based science

  • Peter Godfrey-SmithEmail author
Original paper


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...


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.



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


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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