From Models-as-Fictions to Models-as-Tools

15 Jan 2018

Many accounts of scientific modeling conceive of models as fictions: scientists interact with models in ways analogous to various aesthetic objects. Fictionalists follow most other accounts of modeling by taking them to be revelatory of the actual world in virtue of bearing some resemblance relation to a target system. While such fictionalist accounts capture crucial aspects of modelling practice, they are ill-suited to some design and engineering contexts. Here, models sometimes serve to underwrite design projects whereby real-world targets are constructed. In such circumstances, it is unclear what the model is supposed to resemble. Further, while fictionalists often require that models qua models have their content in virtue of construal or interpretation, in some engineering and design contexts success-conditions do not require such content—all that is required is that the model generates the required outputs. I take these points to motivate a view which accommodates fictionalism, but is broader. I articulate and defend an account of models as tools: specifically, material objects which are put to particular uses in particular contexts.