Synthese

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Models as signs: extending Kralemann and Lattman’s proposal on modeling models within Peirce’s theory of signs

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Abstract

In recent decades, philosophers of science have devoted considerable efforts to understand what models represent. One popular position is that models represent fictional situations. Another position states that, though models often involve fictional elements, they represent real objects or scenarios. Though these two positions may seem to be incompatible, I believe it is possible to reconcile them. Using a threefold distinction between different signs proposed by Peirce, I develop an argument based on a proposal recently made by Kralemann and Lattman (in Synthese 190:3397–3420, 2013) that shows that the two aforementioned positions can be reconciled by distinguishing different ways in which a model representation can be used. In particular, on the basis of Peirce’s distinction between icons, indices and symbols, I argue that models can sometimes function as icons, sometimes as indexes and sometimes as symbols, depending on the context in which they are considered and the use that they are developed for because they all have iconic, indexical and symbolic features. In addition, I show that conceiving models as signs enables us to develop an account of scientific representation that meets the main desiderata that Shech (in Synthese 192:3463–3485, 2015) presents.

Keywords

Models Scientific representation C. S. Peirce Semiotics Signs Kralemann and Lattman Shech 

Notes

Acknowledgements

A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2016 meeting of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science held at the University of Calgary. I am very grateful for generous comments and feedback provided on that occasion by the audience, especially by Carlos Mariscal, Adrian Currie and Elay Shech. I am also thankful to some Peircean scholars who generously provided a sounding board for the ideas in this paper in its earliest stages: Paniel Reyes Cárdenas, Douglas Niño, Shannon Dea and, especially, Catherine Legg. Three anonymous reviewers for Synthese also offered at various stages extremely valuable suggestions that contributed greatly to better the manuscript. Last, but not least, I want to thank my colleague Brian Hutchinson for reading carefully the manuscript and suggesting many stylistic and substantial changes that helped to improve it.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMetropolitan State University of DenverDenverUSA

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