Doctoral defence: Lisa Zorzato “Towards a realist approach to the challenge of fictional models: augmented determination”

On 29 June at 10:15, Lisa Zorzato will defend her doctoral thesis “Towards a realist approach to the challenge of fictional models: augmented determination” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Philosophy).

Associate Professor Endla Lõhkivi, University of Tartu
Professor Stathis Psillos, University of Athens (Greece)

Associate Professor K. Brad Wray, Aarhus University (Denmark)

This thesis aims at discussing an aspect of the debate between the philosophical positions of scientific realism and antirealism. Scientific realism is the view that there is a mind independent world which is knowable trough scientific theories. To explain the success of scientific theories, scientific realists consider those theories to be true depictions of the world. Antirealists, in particular the trend of so-called instrumentalists, do not accept truth assignments to theories; instead, they claim that theories are only instruments to organize and predict observable phenomena.

I present arguments against instrumentalist positions, preparing the ground for the subject of my own interest. This is an aspect of the debate that seems to undermine the realist position. It concerns the successful use in scientific practice of a kind of models that are fictional, in the sense that they do not represent any real system existing in the world. Therefore, the realist connection between success and truth is challenged. Such models have been extensively studied by Alicia Bokulich. To answer the challenge, she proposes a ‘moderate’ version of realism. In this thesis I put forward an alternative solution. Instead of modifying realism, I propose to modify the notion of representation of a physical situation by a model or a theory. To this end, I explain how a fictional model can offer a partial representation of a system, capturing certain essential aspect of it despite failing to represent it in its totality.

The main idea of my argument depends on the possibility of fictional models to act as ‘proxies’ for theories in a well-defined way. The notion of ‘a ladder of abstractions’ is crucial in establishing this possibility. In this way, the link between success and truth is maintained: however, now it is not straightforward. To highlight this more sophisticated link of truth with success, I dub the complex process of establishing it an ‘Augmented Determination’. I conclude my thesis by examining how a range of possible explanation of a phenomenon can be narrowed down to what is the actual case. This is the process of continuous expansion and restriction of possibilities in scientific research, showing that science is an ongoing enterprise producing knowledge about the world.

The defence will be held in Zoom (Meeting ID: 949 5120 7577, Passcode: 950397).