The philosophy of simulation: hot new issues or same old stew?

Abstract

Computer simulations are an exciting tool that plays important roles in many scientific disciplines. This has attracted the attention of a number of philosophers of science. The main tenor in this literature is that computer simulations not only constitute interesting and powerful new science, but that they also raise a host of new philosophical issues. The protagonists in this debate claim no less than that simulations call into question our philosophical understanding of scientific ontology, the epistemology and semantics of models and theories, and the relation between experimentation and theorising, and submit that simulations demand a fundamentally new philosophy of science in many respects. The aim of this paper is to critically evaluate these claims. Our conclusion will be sober. We argue that these claims are overblown and that simulations, far from demanding a new metaphysics, epistemology, semantics and methodology, raise few if any new philosophical problems. The philosophical problems that do come up in connection with simulations are not specific to simulations and most of them are variants of problems that have been discussed in other contexts before.

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Correspondence to Roman Frigg.

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An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11229-009-9577-x

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Frigg, R., Reiss, J. The philosophy of simulation: hot new issues or same old stew?. Synthese 169, 593–613 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-008-9438-z

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Keywords

  • Simulation
  • Models
  • Computer experiments
  • Representation
  • Epistemology of simulation