Fictionalists Disregard the Dynamic Nature of Scientific Models

Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 56)


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. An influential article by John Woods, entitled “Against fictionalism” (Woods 2013), usefully provides a rich argumentation concerning the puzzling problems created by the use of the concept of fiction in philosophy, epistemology, and logic, Woods himself further deepened in the recent book Truth in Fiction: Rethinking Its Logic (Woods 2018). By limiting my treatment to the case of models in science, I would like to offer an additional support to this perspective, emphasizing the unsatisfactory character of this intellectual recent trend, and the uselessness of the concept of fiction in illustrating the scientific enterprise. I will contend that it is misleading to analyze models in science by disregarding the dynamic aspects: scientific models in a static perspective (for example when inserted in a textbook) certainly appear fictional to the epistemologist, but their fictional character disappears if a dynamic perspective is adopted. The article also sketches the role of models in science 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. A reference to the 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.


Fictions Fictionalism Scientific models Model-based reasoning Dynamics of scientific knowledge Static view of science 



Parts of this article were excerpted from L. Magnani (2012), Scientific models are not fictions. Model-based science as epistemic warfare, in L. Magnani and Li Ping (eds.) (2012), Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Western and Eastern Studies, Series “Sapere”, Vol. 2, Springer, Heidelberg/Berlin, pp. 1–38, and originally published in chapter two and three of L. Magnani, The Abductive Structure of Scientific Creativity An Essay on the Ecology of Cognition. Copyright (2017), Springer, Cham, Switzerland.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities, Philosophy Section and Computational Philosophy LaboratoryUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly

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