Informational versus functional theories of scientific representation

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52 Scopus citations


Recent work in the philosophy of science has generated an apparent conflict between theories attempting to explicate the nature of scientific representation. On one side, there are what one might call 'informational' views, which emphasize objective relations (such as similarity, isomorphism, and homomorphism) between representations (theories, models, simulations, diagrams, etc.) and their target systems. On the other side, there are what one might call 'functional' views, which emphasize cognitive activities performed in connection with these targets, such as interpretation and inference. The main sources of the impression of conflict here are arguments by some functionalists to the effect that informational theories are flawed: it is suggested that relations typically championed by informational theories are neither necessary nor sufficient for scientific representation, and that any theory excluding functions is inadequate. In this paper I critically examine these arguments, and contend that, as it turns out, informational and functional theories are importantly complementary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-213
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Isomorphism
  • Model
  • Scientific representation
  • Similarity
  • Target system
  • Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)


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