Scientific Models Are Not Fictions

Model-Based Science as Epistemic Warfare
  • Lorenzo Magnani
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 2)


In the current epistemological debate scientific models are not only considered as useful devices for explaining facts or discovering new entities, laws, and theories, but also rubricated under various new labels: from the classical ones, as abstract entities and idealizations, to the more recent, as fictions, surrogates, credible worlds, missing systems, make-believe, parables, functional, epistemic actions, revealing capacities. The paper discusses these approaches showing some of their epistemological inadequacies, also taking advantage of recent results in cognitive science. The main aim is to revise and criticize fictionalism, also reframing the received idea of abstractness and ideality of models with the help of recent results coming from the area of distributed cognition (common coding) and abductive cognition (manipulative). The article also illustrates how scientific modeling activity can be better described taking advantage of the concept of “epistemic warfare”, which sees scientific enterprise as a complicated struggle for rational knowledge in which it is crucial to distinguish epistemic (for example scientific models) from non epistemic (for example fictions, falsities, propaganda) weapons. Finally I will illustrate that it is misleading to analyze models in science by adopting a confounding mixture of static and dynamic aspects of the scientific enterprise. Scientific models in a static perspective (for example when inserted in a textbook) certainly appear fictional to the epistemologist, but their fictional character disappears in case a dynamic perspective is adopted. A reference to the originative role of thought experiment in Galileo’s discoveries and to usefulness of Feyerabend’s counterinduction in criticizing the role of resemblance in model-based cognition is also provided, to further corroborate the thesis indicated by the article title.


Thought Experiment Target System Common Code Rational Knowledge Heavy Body 
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.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorenzo Magnani
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Arts and Humanities, Philosophy Section and Computational, Philosophy LaboratoryUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophySun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouP.R. China

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