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The pragmatics of scientific representation

By Mauricio Suárez


This paper is divided in two parts. In part I, I argue against two attempts to naturalise the notion of scientific representation, by reducing it to isomorphism and similarity. I distinguish between the means and the constituents of representation, and I argue that isomorphism and similarity are common (although not universal) means of representation; but that they are not constituents of scientific representation. I look at the prospects for weakened versions of these theories, and I argue that only those that abandon the aim to naturalise scientific representation are likely to be successful. In part II of the paper, I present a deflationary conception of scientific representation, which minimally characterises it by means of two necessary conditions: representation is essentially intentional and it has the capacity to allow surrogate reasoning and inference. I then defend this conception by showing that it successfully meets the objections and difficulties that make its competitors, such as isomorphism and similarity, untenable. In addition the inferential conception explains the success of various means of representation in their appropriate domains, and it sheds light on the truth and accuracy of scientific representations

Topics: B Philosophy (General), Q Science (General)
Publisher: Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science
Year: 2002
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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