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Chapter 11 - Scientific representation, denotation, and explanatory power

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2012

Athanassios Raftopoulos
Affiliation:
University of Cyprus
Peter Machamer
Affiliation:
University of Pittsburgh
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Summary

In science one encounters several kinds of models, such as iconic or scale models, analogical models, and mathematical models. This chapter is restricted to mathematical models. It focuses exclusively on denotative accounts and attempts to develop a denotative account of scientific representation that ties the representational function of scientific models to their explanatory power. The chapter explains why existing denotative accounts are plagued with some weaknesses that prevent them from accurately capturing important elements of scientific modelling. It argues that denotative accounts must make use of the notions of mechanism and explanatory power if they are to overcome those weaknesses and do justice to how scientific models represent their target systems. Nelson Goodman suggests that what lies at the core of representation is denotation. However, if scientific models are denotative representational vehicles and we want to capture the general/specific divide, then their representational and explanatory functions should be linked.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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