Hypothetical, not Fictional Worlds

  • 1 Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford BD7 1DP, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


This paper critically analyzes the fiction-view of scientific modeling, which exploits presumed analogies between literary fiction and model building in science. The basic idea is that in both fiction and scientific modeling fictional worlds are created. The paper argues that the fiction-view comes closest to certain scientific thought experiments, especially those involving demons in science and to literary movements like naturalism. But the paper concludes that the dissimilarities prevail over the similarities. The fiction-view fails to do justice to the plurality of model types used in science; it fails to realize that a function like idealization only makes sense in science because models, unlike works of fiction, can be de-idealized; it fails to distinguish sufficiently between the make-believe (fictional) worlds created in fiction and the hypothetical (as-if) worlds envisaged in models. Representation characterized in the fiction-view as a license to draw inferences does not sufficiently distinguish between inferences in fiction from inferences in scientific modeling. To highlight the contrast the paper proposes to explicate representation in terms of satisfaction of constraints.

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