Partial truth versus felicitous falsehoods

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Elgin has argued that scientific models that are, strictly speaking, inaccurate representations of the world, are epistemically valuable because the “falsehoods” they contain are “felicitous”. Many, including Elgin herself, have interpreted this claim as offering an alternative to scientific realism and “veritism”. In this paper, I will argue that there is a more felicitous interpretation of Elgin’s work: “felicitous falsehoods” do play a role in the epistemic value of inaccurate models, but that role is of instrumental value. Elgin’s view is not best understood as claiming that falsehoods provide scientific understanding in and of themselves, only that they facilitate epistemic access to the fundamental, even if partial, truths that are contained within models. While falsehoods may be felicitous in that they facilitate exemplification, the epistemic value of inaccurate models ultimately relies on their partial accuracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5415-5436
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Factivity
  • Idealization
  • Models
  • Realism
  • Understanding


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