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Why We Cannot Learn from Minimal Models

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-455
JournalERKENNTNIS
Early online date9 Aug 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

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Abstract

Philosophers of science have developed several accounts of how consideration of scientific models can prompt learning about real-world targets. In recent years, various authors advocated the thesis that consideration of so-called minimal models can prompt learning about such targets. In this paper, I draw on the philosophical literature on scientific modelling and on widely cited illustrations from economics and biology to argue that this thesis fails to withstand scrutiny. More specifically, I criticize leading proponents of such thesis for failing to explicate in virtue of what properties or features minimal models supposedly prompt learning and for substantially overstating the epistemic import of minimal models. I then examine and refute several arguments one may put forward to demonstrate that consideration of minimal models can prompt learning about real-world targets. In doing so, I illustrate the implications of my critique for the wider debate on the epistemology of scientific modelling.

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