Informational versus functional theories of scientific representation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

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
JournalSynthese
Volume172
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

conflict theory
model theory
philosophy of science
simulation model
interpretation
Scientific Representation
Simulation
Function Theory
Isomorphism
Model Theory
Diagrams
Philosophy of Science
Inference
Functionalist

Keywords

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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Philosophy

Cite this

Informational versus functional theories of scientific representation. / Chakravartty, Anjan.

In: Synthese, Vol. 172, No. 2, 01.01.2010, p. 197-213.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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