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Exploratory models and exploratory modelling in science

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‘Exploratory experimentation’ has, for some time now, been recognised by historians and philosophers of science as a suitable strategy in situations where no well-formed theory or conceptual framework is available (or is regarded as reliable). In previous work, I have argued that this observation can be fruitfully extended to scientific modelling, too, and that several distinct exploratory functions of models should be distinguished, amongst them: (1) serving as a starting point for future inquiry, (2) contributing to proof-of-principle demonstrations, (3) generating potential explanations of observed (types of) phenomena, and (4) providing tools for re-assessing the suitability of the target. These functions are neither mutually exclusive, nor exhaustive, which is why it would be desirable to have a more fine-grained distinction between different types of exploration. In this talk, I will survey recent applications of the notion of ‘exploratory modelling’ by various authors, and will discuss how accepting the value of exploration as on a par with that of explanation and prediction helps to make sense of such epistemic activities as abstraction and idealization.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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