Conference on Scientific Fictionalism

June 12, 2015 - June 13, 2015
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room 246
Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom


  • British Society of Aesthetics
  • Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics
  • Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Studies, University of London

All speakers:

Alisa Bokulich
Boston University
Gregory Currie
University of York
Stacie Friend
Birkbeck College, University of London
Roman Frigg
London School of Economics
Fiora Salis
University of Lisbon
Adam Toon
University of Exeter
Michael Weisberg
University of Pennsylvania

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This is a two-day conference co-organised by the IP and by CPNSS at the LSE, and sponsored by the IP, by CPNSS and by the British Society of Aesthetics.

In recent years new and innovative comparisons have been developed between the debate on scientific models in philosophy of science and the debate on the nature of fiction in aesthetics. The analogy squares well with scientific practice, where scientists talk about models as if they were imaginary objects. Although a precursor of the analogy between models and fiction can be identified in Vaihinger’s emphasis on the importance of fictions for scientific reasoning, only very recently philosophers of science have tried to articulate it by using paradigmatic accounts of fiction from aesthetics. Nancy Cartwright famously claimed that ‘a model is a work of fiction’ and later suggested to analyse models as fables. Catherine Elgin argues that science shares important epistemic practices with artistic fiction. And Mary Morgan contends that narratives play an important role in economic modelling. During the last decade Peter Godfrey-Smith and Roman Frigg explicitly put forward the view that models are akin to fictional characters, with Frigg explicitly developing a view of models as fiction in terms of Kendall Walton’s pretence theory.

However, while the analogy between models and fiction has attracted attention in philosophy of science, many issues remain open and deserve further investigation. The conference will focus on the following main questions:

  • How should we construe the analogy between models and fiction? How far can the analogy go? 
  • Our engagement with fiction is traditionally characterized in terms of an essential response of ?imagination. Can we characterize our engagement with models in the same way? Is there a ?specific notion of scientific imagination? 
  • Philosophers of art are currently developing new and original accounts of how we learn with ?fictions. Philosophers of science are still discussing the parallel problem of how we learn with models. Can we gain any useful insight into the latter problem from the accounts currently developed in aesthetics? 
  • There is an important distinction between truth in fiction and genuine truth. Is there a parallel distinction between truth within a model and genuine truth? How do we find out about these truths and how do we justify our claims? 
  • From a methodological point of view, can aesthetic considerations about fiction play any legitimate role in philosophical accounts of scientific modelling? What is the explanatory advantage of deploying the aesthetic notion of fiction in philosophy of science?

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