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Egenis · Events

Egenis seminar with Dr W.N.(Wybo) Houkes 'An Artefact Model of Models'

Seminar   31.01.2011






Egenis seminar with Dr W.N. (Wybo) Houkes, Professor, Philosophy of Science and Technology at Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands

Organised by



University of Exeter,Egenis,Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJ

Room no: GF7, Byrne House

Event details

Time: 3:00 - 4:30


In this paper, I flesh out an analogy between models and technical artefacts, which permeates much of the philosophical literature on modelling practices. I apply the resulting insights to improve understanding of the use of ecological models in technology-diffusion literature.

My construction of the Artefact Model proceeds in three steps. First, I show how comparisons to artefacts have informed philosophical work on models: advocates of otherwise quite diverse philosophical views of models all appeal either explicitly or implicitly to analogies with the design and use of technical artefacts. I refer in particular to Mäki’s (2009; 2010) MISS view, Weisberg’s (2007) rendition of the semantic view, and Knuuttila’s (2009) view of models as epistemic tools. Secondly, I argue that these analogies suffer from surprisingly similar shortcomings: by fleshing out a more detailed Artefact Model, drawing on recent work in the philosophy of technology (e.g., Houkes and Vermaas 2010), several weak spots are revealed. Thirdly, I present a more developed Artefact Model of models and illustrate its usefulness for understanding modelling practice.

I illustrate the second and third steps outlined above with the application of Lotka-Volterra models, originally developed for ecological systems, to technology diffusion (e.g., Morris and Pratt 2003). This case differs from those used typically in the philosophical literature, because the modelling practice involves a re-appropriation or ‘innovative use’ of models rather than a case in which construction and use contexts almost coincide.


Houkes, W. and P.E. Vermaas (2010). Technical Functions: The Use and Design of Artefacts. Dordrecht: Springer.Knuuttila, T. (2009). Isolating Representations versus Credible Constructions? Erkenntnis 70: 59-80.Mäki, U. (2009). MISSing the World: Models as Isolations and Credible Surrogate Systems. Erkenntnis 70: 29-43.Mäki, U. (2010). Models and the Locus of Their Truth. Synthese, online first.Morris, S.A. and D. Pratt (2003). Analysis of the Lotka-Volterra Competition Equations as a Technological Substitution Model, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 70: 103-133.Weisberg, M. (2007). Who is a Modeller? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58: 207-233.

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