What is a target system?

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Many phenomena in the natural world are complex, so scientists study them through simplified and idealised models. Philosophers of science have sought to explain how these models relate to the world. On most accounts, models do not represent the world directly, but through target systems. However, our knowledge of target systems is incomplete. First, what is the process by which target systems come about? Second, what types of entity are they? I argue that the basic conception of target systems, on which other conceptions depend, is as parts of the world. I outline the process of target system specification and show that it is a crucial step in modelling. I also develop an account of target system evaluation, based on aptness. Paying close attention to target system specification and evaluation can help scientists minimise the frequency and extent of mistakes, when they are using models to investigate phenomena in complex real-world systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number2
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 611 Philosophy
  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology

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