Holistic Idealization: An Artifactual Standpoint

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 91:49-59 (2022)
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Abstract

Idealization is commonly understood as distortion: representing things differently than how they actually are. In this paper, we outline an alternative artifactual approach that does not make misrepresentation central for the analysis of idealization. We examine the contrast between the Hodgkin-Huxley (1952a, b, c) and the Heimburg-Jackson (2005, 2006) models of the nerve impulse from the artifactual perspective, and argue that, since the two models draw upon different epistemic resources and research programs, it is often difficult to tell which features of a system the central assumptions involved are supposed to distort. Many idealizations are holistic in nature. They cannot be locally undone without dismantling the model, as they occupy a central position in the entire research program. Nor is their holistic character mainly related to the use of mathematical and statistical modeling techniques as portrayed by Rice (2018, 2019). We suggest that holistic idealizations are implicit theoretical and representational assumptions that can only be understood in relation to the conceptual and representational tools exploited in modeling and experimental practices. Such holistic idealizations play a pivotal role not just in individual models, but also in defining research programs.

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Author Profiles

Natalia Carrillo
University of Vienna
Tarja Knuuttila
University of Vienna

References found in this work

Galilean Idealization.Ernan McMullin - 1985 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 16 (3):247.
Minimal Model Explanations.Robert W. Batterman & Collin C. Rice - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (3):349-376.
The Strategy of Model-Based Science.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (5):725-740.
Who is a Modeler?Michael Weisberg - 2007 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (2):207-233.
Modelling and Representing: An Artefactual Approach to Model-Based Representation.Tarja Knuuttila - 2011 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 42 (2):262-271.

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