Scientific representation and nominalism: an empiricist view


  • Otávio Bueno University of South Carolina



Can a constructive empiricist make sense of scientific representation? Usually, a scientific model is an abstract entity (e.g., formulated in set theory), and scientific representation is conceptualized as an intentional relation between scientific models and certain aspects of the world. On this conception, since both the models and the representation relation are abstract, a constructive empiricist, who is not committed to the existence of abstract entities, would be unable to invoke these notions to make sense of scientific representation. In this paper, instead of understanding representation as a relation between abstract entities, I focus on the activity of representing, and argue that it provides a way of making sense of representation within the boundaries of empiricism. The activity of representing doesn’t deal with abstract entities, but with concrete ones, such as inscriptions, templates, and blueprints. In the end, by examining the practice of representing, rather than an artificially reified product—the representation—the constructive empiricist has the resources to make sense of scientific representation in empiricist terms.