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Models & modelling in science & technology - PHI00093M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mike Stuart
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

The module will introduce some of the central issues in contemporary philosophical discussions of scientific models, including who is a modeller, the nature and varieties of scientific models and modelling practices, model idealisations, model-based reasoning, model explanations, varieties of model-based knowledge, models and the scientific imagination, models and trust. A variety of models and modelling practices will be considered, with a special focus on paradigmatic cases from computational cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

To explore some central ongoing debates about scientific models and the practice of modelling based on philosophical analysis and paradigmatic case studies.

To develop some key skills, including

– to work your way to an understanding of challenging philosophical puzzles, views, and arguments in an autonomous way, showing critical awareness and command of the material;

– to discuss complex and difficult conceptual problems with others, working together to develop understanding and critique and evaluate theories;

– to evaluate views and arguments methodically and in detail;

to develop your own view on a question—based on and informed by a strong understanding of contributions to the debate—and then assemble a detailed reasoned case for that view;

– to undertake independent research reading;

– to find your way through a range of connected debates, making connections between them and developing those connections to gain a deeper understanding of the debates and create better arguments.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to

  • understand and explain a range of key problems, issues, and debates in philosophy of science concerning scientific models and the modelling practice and express this understanding in clear, precise, and accessible terms;

  • develop and articulate ranges of alternative solutions to specific problems and issues in an open-minded way, drawing on module materials;

  • develop and articulate arguments for the alternative solutions considered in relation to specific problems and issues, drawing on module materials, identifying some points of weakness and some potential points for development;

  • make a judgement about what is the best view on a particular problem and argue in defence of this judgement;

  • apply simple strategies for improving your work, based on critical reflection and feedback.

Module content

There are no formal prerequisites for taking the module, but knowledge of at least some science (social or natural) and of some basic philosophy of science will be helpful. A number of recent monographs and volumes on scientific models have been published over the past couple of years.

Frigg and Nguyen’s Modelling Nature: An Opinionated Introduction to Scientific Representation (Springer 2020) offers a comprehensive survey of contemporary philosophical theories of models as scientific representation.

The Scientific Imagination, edited by Arnon Levy and Peter Godfrey-Smith (Oxford University Press 2020), includes a number of excellent contributions on the role of models, metaphors and thought experiments in science, the connection between the imagination and scientific practices such as modelling and thought experimenting, and the correct way to understand scientific fictions.

The volume on Models and Idealizations in Science: Artifactual and Fictional Approaches, edited by Alejandro Cassini and Juan Redmond (Springer 2021), explores two recent approaches to scientific modelling, artefactualism and fictionalism, to investigate the nature and functions of models and how they are idealised and deidealised.

A number of useful encyclopaedia entries on models and related issues in philosophy of science are available in the excellent Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, available online.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is also available online, contains a number of extremely detailed articles on a variety of topics, including Frigg and Hartmann’s “Models in Science” (which I highly recommend).


Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

All feedback will be returned in line with University and Departmental policy.

Indicative reading

  • Michael Weisberg (2007) “Who is a modeller?” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science: 207-233

  • Peter Godfrey-Smith (2006) “The Strategy of Model-Based Science,” Biology and Philosophy.

  • Fiora Salis and Roman Frigg (2020) “Capturing the Scientific Imagination,” in The Scientific Imagination, Arnon Levy and Peter Godfrey-Smith (eds), Oxford University Press.

  • Natalia Carrillo and Tarja Knuuttila (2021) “An artefactual perspective on idealization: Galvanic cells and electric circuits in nerve signal research.” In: Alejandro Cassini y Juan Redmond (ed.) Models and Idealizations in Science: Fictional and Artefactual Approaches (Cham: Springer).

  • Charles M. Wharton and Jordan Grafman (1998) “Cognitive and AI models of reasoning,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2 2): 54-59.

  • Andrea Ferrario, Michele Loi & Eleonora Viganò (2020) “In AI We Trust Incrementally: a Multi-layer Model of Trust to Analyze Human-Artificial Intelligence Interactions,” Philosophy and Technology 33 (3): 523-539.

  • Mariarosaria Taddeo (2010) Modelling Trust in Artificial Agents, A First Step Toward the Analysis of e-Trust, Minds and Machines 20 (2):243-257.

  • Yan Teng (2021) “Towards trustworthy blockchains: normative reflections on blockchain-enabled virtual institutions.” Ethics and Information Technology 23 (3):385-397.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.