What to make of highly unrealistic models?

October 12, 2017 - October 13, 2017
TINT, Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence for the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, University of Helsinki

Yliopistonkatu 4

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N. Emrah Aydinonat
University of Helsinki
Till Grüne-Yanoff
Kungliga Tekniska högskolan Stockholm
Uskali Mäki
University of Helsinki

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Workshop 12-13 OCTOBER 2017  

TINT Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of Social Sciences University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland  http://www.helsinki.fi/tint

What to make of highly unrealistic models? This is one of the big questions in contemporary philosophy of science, especially in philosophy of economics and biology.

Two sets of issues are relevant to answering this question. The first has to do with the ways in which highly unrealistic models should be characterized and the numerous ways in which models can be unrealistic. The key concepts here include those of representation and target, truth and falsity, abstraction and isolation, idealization and simplification, etc. Recent literature on models exhibits conceptual and terminological diversity and disagreement in characterizing unrealistic models. Different authors use different names to refer to highly unrealistic models: ‘toy model’, ‘fictional model’, ‘minimal model’, ‘non-representative model’, ‘model without a target’, ‘substitute model’, etc. Moreover, they sometimes use the same name to refer to different types of models. Neither the precise meanings nor the relations between these notions are clear in the literature.

The second set of issues has to do with the functions and uses of such unrealistic models. What purposes can they serve, and what purposes are actually pursued when using them? The main body of literature points to representational quality as grounding explanatory capacity despite abstraction, isolation, simplification and idealization. Others dispute this idea. Moreover, highly unrealistic models can serve other possible functions, next to their explanatory uses. Debates concerning the appropriate uses of highly unrealistic models need some tidying up.

TINT will host a workshop in Helsinki on 12-13 October 2017 in order to sort out some of the ambiguities and confusions in the literature and to contribute to a better understanding of the interpretations and uses of highly abstract and idealizing models. We are particularly interested in papers that (i) clarify the meaning of commonly used terms such as toy model, minimal model, fictional model, substitute model, etc, and that (ii) clarify the arguments for and against such models having explanatory import or some other epistemic or non-epistemic function. Papers that focus on and compare highly unrealistic models in economics and biology are particularly welcome.

If you would like to join us please send an extended abstract (750 - 1000 words) before 15 August 2017 to N. Emrah Aydinonat (emrah.aydinonat@helsinki.fi). We plan to publish a selection of papers from the symposium as a journal’s special issue. For this reason, authors accepted for the workshop are required to submit an extended summary of their argument (2000 - 2500 words) before the event. Extended summaries will be distributed to all participants in advance. The workshop will consist of short presentations followed by extensive discussion.

Location: University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Date: 12-13 October 2017

Deadline for abstract submission: 15 August 2017

Announcement of accepted abstracts: 1 September 2017

Deadline for the extended summary: 1 October 2017  

Organizers: N. Emrah Aydinonat, Till Grüne-Yanoff and Uskali Mäki

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