Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Theoretical models are widely held as sources of knowledge of reality. Imagination is vital to their development and to the generation of plausible hypotheses about reality. But how can imagination, which is typically held to be completely free, effectively instruct us about reality? In this paper I argue that the key to answering this question is in constrained uses of imagination. More specifically, I identify make-believe as the right notion of imagination at work in modelling. I propose the first overarching taxonomy of types of constraints on scientific imagination that enables knowledge of reality. And I identify two main kinds of knowledge enabled by models, knowledge of the imaginary scenario specified by models and knowledge of reality.

How do we learn about reality through scientific models? Answering this question requires distinguishing between two main kinds of models, material and theoretical. Material models are physical objects that serve as representations of physical systems. Theoretical models are mathematical models that…


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