Infinite Idealizations in Science

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Infinite Idealizations in Science
8-9 June, 2016

Idea and Motivation

Infinite idealizations are assumptions that play an important role in physics, biology, economics, and many others sciences. Putative examples include an infinite population size in population genetics, an infinite number of components in the theory of phase transitions and an infinite number of persons consuming an infinite number of (infinitely divisible) goods in large-scale economic models. Although these idealizations are generally uncontroversial in the scientific community, they have been at the center of recent philosophical debates about reduction, explanation and the status of models in science. Yet, philosophers of the particular sciences addressing these issues have largely kept within the confines of their own specialist literature. One of our goals for the conference is to bring philosophers of physics, biology, economics, etc. together in conversation about infinite idealizations, thereby mapping what similarities and differences such idealizations may have across these fields.

Some of the questions this workshop aims to explore include (but are not limited to):

  • Are infinite idealizations compatible with reduction?
  • Can a model invoking an infinite idealization have explanatory power?
  • What explains the success of theories that appeal to infinite idealizations?
  • Are infinite idealizations compatible with scientific realism?
  • Are infinite idealizations substantially different from other idealizations?
  • Should infinite idealizations be understood as approximations?