How scientific models can explain


Scientific models invariably involve some degree of idealization, abstraction, or fictionalization of their target system. Nonetheless, I argue that there are circumstances under which such false models can offer genuine scientific explanations. After reviewing three different proposals in the literature for how models can explain, I shall introduce a more general account of what I call model explanations, which specify the conditions under which models can be counted as explanatory. I shall illustrate this new framework by applying it to the case of Bohr’s model of the atom, and conclude by drawing some distinctions between phenomenological models, explanatory models, and fictional models.

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Correspondence to Alisa Bokulich.

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Bokulich, A. How scientific models can explain. Synthese 180, 33–45 (2011).

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  • Models
  • Explanation
  • Fictions
  • Structural explanation
  • Bohr’s atom