In the current epistemological debate, scientific models are not only considered as useful devices for explaining facts or discovering new entities, laws, and theories, but also rubricated under various new labels: from the classical ones, as abstract entities and idealizations, to the more recent, as fictions, surrogates, credible worlds, missing systems, make-believe, parables, functional, epistemic actions, revealing capacities. Professor Magnani of the University of Pavia in Italy will discuss these approaches showing some of their epistemological inadequacies, also taking advantage of recent results in cognitive science. The main aim is to revise and criticize fictionalism, also reframing the received idea of abstractness and ideality of models with the help of recent results coming from the area of distributed cognition (common coding) and abductive cognition (manipulative). Professor Magnani will illustrate how scientific modeling activity can be better described taking advantage of the concept of “epistemic warfare,” which sees scientific enterprise as a complicated struggle for rational knowledge in which it is crucial to distinguish epistemic (for example scientific models) from non-epistemic (for example fictions, falsities, propaganda) weapons. Finally, he will contend that it is misleading to analyze models in science by adopting a confounding mixture of static and dynamic aspects of the scientific enterprise. Scientific models in a static perspective (for example when inserted in a textbook) certainly appear fictional to the epistemologist, but their fictional character disappears in case a dynamic perspective is adopted. A reference to the originative role of thought experiment in Galileo’s discoveries and to the usefulness of Feyerabend’s counterinduction in criticizing the role of resemblance in model-based cognition is also provided, to further enrich the answer to the question indicated by the title of this talk.
Professor Jim Weatherall of UC Irvine will lead a conversation with Professor Magnani the next day at 3 p.m.