The morals of model-making

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Sterrett, Susan G.
S.G. Sterrett, The morals of model-making, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Available online 17 December 2013, ISSN 0039-3681,
I address questions about values in model-making in engineering, specifically: Might the role of values be attributable solely to interests involved in specifying and using the model? Selected examples illustrate the surprisingly wide variety of things one must take into account in the model-making itself. The notions of system (as used in engineering thermodynamics), and physically similar systems (as used in the physical sciences) are important and powerful in determining what is relevant to an engineering model. Another example (windfarms) illustrates how an idea to completely re-characterize, or reframe, an engineering problem arose during model-making. I employ a qualitative analogue of the notion of physically similar systems. Historical cases can thus be drawn upon; I illustrate with a comparison between a geoengineering proposal to inject, or spray, sulfate aerosols, and two different historical cases involving the spraying of DDT (fire ant eradication; malaria eradication). The current geoengineering proposal is seen to be like the disastrous and counterproductive case, and unlike the successful case, of the spraying of DDT. I conclude by explaining my view that model-making in science is analogous to moral perception in action, drawing on a view in moral theory that has come to be called moral particularism.
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Copyright 2013 by Author. Published by Elsevier. Open Access article licensed under: