Truth and Representation in Science: Two Inspirations from Art

Anjan Chakravartty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

17 Scopus citations


Realists regarding scientific knowledge-those who think that our best scientific representations truly describe both observable and unobservable aspects of the world-have special need of a notion of approximate truth. Since theories and models are rarely considered true simpliciter, the realist requires some means of making sense of the claim that they may be false and yet close to the truth, and increasingly so over time. In this paper, I suggest that traditional approaches to approximate truth pay insufficient attention to an important distinction between two features of scientific knowledge, and that for each of them, analogies between representational practices in the sciences and in art prove useful to understanding how this situation can be remedied. First, I outline two distinct ways in which representations deviate from the truth, commonly referred to as "abstraction" and "idealization". Second, I argue that these practices exemplify different conventions of representation, and that for each, the conditions of approximation relevant to explicating the concept of approximate truth must be understood differently. The concept is thus heterogeneous; approximate truth is a virtue that is multiply realized, relative to different contexts of representation. This understanding is facilitated, I suggest, by considering the distinction between realistic and non-realistic representation in art.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameBoston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science
ISSN (Print)0068-0346
ISSN (Electronic)2214-7942

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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