Kinds of modalities and modeling practices

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Several recent accounts of modeling have focused on the modal dimension of scientific inquiry. More precisely, it has been suggested that there are specific models and modeling practices that are best understood as being geared towards possibilities, a view recently dubbed modal modeling. But modalities encompass much more than mere possibility claims. Besides possibilities, modal modeling can also be used to investigate contingencies, necessities or impossibilities. Although these modal concepts are logically connected to the notion of possibility, not all models are equal in their affordances for these richer modal inferences. This paper investigates the modal extent of selected models and argues that analyzing singular model-target pairings by themselves is typically not enough to explain their modal aptness or to identify the kinds of modalities they can be used to reason about. Furthermore, it is argued that some important concepts that are not explicitly modal - like biological robustness - can be understood modally through their relational nature to a background space of possibilities. In conclusion, it is suggested that the strategy of modal modeling is contrastive, situating particular possibilities in larger modal spaces and studying the structural relations within them.
Original languageEnglish
Article number196
JournalSynthese: an international journal for epistemology, methodology and philosophy of science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 603124 Theory of science
  • 603102 Epistemology


  • modality
  • models
  • possibility
  • necessity
  • contingency
  • Modalities
  • Biological robustness
  • Necessity
  • Possibility
  • Modeling
  • Contingency

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