Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Fiction and Reality: An Uncanny Relationship [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ontology, Philosophy of science, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: Explanation, Fiction, Models, representation


In this paper, I will deal with the use of fictional models in the context of the realism vs antirealism debate. Specifically, I will argue that the explanatory role of fictional models can be accommodated by scientific realism. I will refer to the work of Alisa Bokulich, who has proposed a modification of realism in order to account for explanations employing fictional models. My own approach will be to offer an alternative: instead of a modification of realism, I will propose a modified notion of representation. Based on the work of James Clerk Maxwell and Bokulich’s own account of it, I will introduce the notion of a ‘ladder of abstractions’, meaning an hierarchical organisation of mathematical structures constituting both models and theories. In this way, fictional model explanations can be construed realistically if understood as offering partial representations of a physical situation corresponding to an appropriate level of abstraction.

The term ‘fictional models’ will signify in the following “theoretical structures describing physical systems that are not, in fact, instantiated” (Zorzato 2023). Fictional models are often considered to be problematic in terms of the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism. It would appear that their role is confined to being merely tools for calculations and predictions. However, fictional models can contribute positively to scientific explanation. Alisa Bokulich, in a book and a series of papers, has offered plenty of cases demonstrating that fiction can be ‘a vehicle for truth’ (Bokulich 2016). My main concern in this paper is to see how the use of fictional models can be accounted for from a realist viewpoint. In general, I agree with Bokulich when she says that her “account of explanatory fictions lies within a broadly realist approach to…


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