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Partial truth versus felicitous falsehoods

Le Bihan, Soazig (2019) Partial truth versus felicitous falsehoods. Synthese. ISSN 1573-0964


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Elgin has argued that scientific models that are, strictly speaking, inaccurate representations of the world, are epistemically valuable because the “falsehoods” they contain are “felicitous”. Many, including Elgin herself, have interpreted this claim as offering an alternative to scientific realism and “veritism”. In this paper, I will argue that there is a more felicitous interpretation of Elgin’s work: “felicitous falsehoods” do play a role in the epistemic value of inaccurate models, but that role is of instrumental value. Elgin’s view is not best understood as claiming that falsehoods provide scientific understanding in and of themselves, only that they facilitate epistemic access to the fundamental, even if partial, truths that are contained within models. While falsehoods may be felicitous in that they facilitate exemplification, the epistemic value of inaccurate models ultimately relies on their partial accuracy.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Le Bihan, Soazigsoazig.leibhan@umontana.edu0000-0002-0934-1827
Keywords: understanding; models; idealization; realism; factivity
Subjects: General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: Dr. Soazig Le Bihan
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2019 01:45
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2019 01:45
Item ID: 16512
Journal or Publication Title: Synthese
Publisher: Springer (Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s11229-019-02413-4
Subjects: General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 2019
ISSN: 1573-0964

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