[Humanist] 28.292 good and bad models

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Aug 27 07:28:06 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 292.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2014 23:26:59 +0000
        From: James Smithies <james.smithies at canterbury.ac.nz>
        Subject: RE:  28.283 good and bad models?

Dear Willard,

This reminds me of an article by philosopher of computing Luciano Floridi: "A Defence of Informational Structural Realism." Synthese 161, no. 2 (March 1, 2008).

It's, unsurprisingly, a defence of his conception of informational structural realism (not to be confused with pancomputationalism). In building his defence he points out the poverty of "naive structural realism", which relies ".on a conception of knowledge as a direct relation between model and modelled". I won't attempt to delve into the details (or arguments for and against) either structural realism or informational structural realism. I merely want to extend your point by suggesting our 'take' on the relationship between models and the knowledge modelled is deeply personal, and speaks to our orientation to fundamental issues in the philosophy of science and mathematics, and eventually phenomenology too. 

Digital humanists would do well to think the issue through and decide where they sit. If we do, I suspect we'd be better prepared for critiques of our practices like the one that came from Stanley Fish in "Mind Your P's and B's: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation." Opinionator. 23 Jan. 2012. In some ways he was claiming that digital humanists are all naive structural realists - something that is patently incorrect. Conversely, I suspect most digital humanists (and many - most? - scientists and mathematicians) would feel that models always underdetermine the object they're modelling, leaving plenty of room for interpretation and in fact demanding it. Perhaps there are DHers out there who do believe in the potential for a perfect fit between model and modelled; my point is more that, as with most things, if we know our stance on these things we'll be better positioned to argue our case when hoary old chestnuts are thrown our way. 


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