The vast majority of papers in this volume attempt to relate the notion of truth and/or truth approximation to the idea of idealization. The point of view which admits the significance of idealizations in science is becoming more and more important in the recent philosophy of science (Barr 1971, Suppe 1972, Ludwig 1977, Laymon 1980, Cartwright 1983, 1989, etc.). One of the methodological trends which places the mentioned method in the center of the philosophy of science are the writings of a group of philosophers working at Poznan University, Poland (cf. Nowak 1971, 1972, 1980; systematically developed in the writings of many authors, notably Brzezinski, Klawiter, Kupracz, Lastowski, Nowakowa, Patryas, Zielinska, and others whose papers appeared in the monographical issues of this bookseries: vol 1, no.1 (1975), vol. 2, no.3 (1976), vol. 8 (1985), vols 16 and 17 (1990)). The present volume is a next step in the development of this approach.

The main idea of the idealizational approach to science is that science is neither a generalization of empirical facts nor a construction of hypotheses reconstructing the causes of empirical facts but is very much like a caricature. Indeed, what a cartoonist does is to omit some traits of the portrayed person and to exaggerate the remaining ones in order to convey a kind of truth which would be impossible to reach in the realm of a simple description of what is empirically available. And the same holds for science. Mass-point, inertial system, perfect gas, closed economy, perfect competition in a free market, rational decision-makers etc. are caricatures of reality constructed by means of appropriate idealizing conditions. These “caricaturized” objects are spoken about in a special sort of statements , idealizational laws. Idealizational laws constitute a standard for the explanation of empirical facts. For , and at this point the analogy with caricature evidently breaks down , an idealizational law is gradually concretized by gradually incorporating the previously neglected properties and modifying its formula (consequent). The law becomes more and more complicated and therefore ever closer to the empirical reality. This procedure continues until the most realistic model becomes a sufficient approximation of a given system. Whether the approximation will be good enough can only be determined through a confrontation with experience.

The present volume is related to this approach in several ways. A large introductory paper by L. NOWAK (“The Idealizational Approach to Science: A Survey”) brings an outline of numerous contributions to the study of idealization. More than 160 writings by various Polish authors are referred to. The paper divides the contributions into three fields. Some are applications of the idealizational approach to special methodological problems of various sciences; the range of these applications varies from astronomy to jurisprudence and philosophy. Some others are generalizations of the original approach outlined above. Finally, there are some which criticize this approach for the failure to account for some important aspects of the scientific method and try to expand it so that the new proposals can cope with cases which falsify the original approach.

The volume contains new contributions, some of them of importance for the idealizational approach to science. T.A.F KUIPERS (“Truth Approximation by Concretization”) develops his variant of the structuralist conception of methodology in order to incorporate the basic ideas of the idealizational approach. He proves on the grounds of his construction of truthlikeness (earlier versions, cf. his 1982, 1987) that under some specified conditions the following claim holds: if a theory Y is a concretization of a theory X, then Y is closer to the truth then X. A. KUPRACZ (“Testing and Correspondence”) discusses in a new and refreshing way one of traditional topics in the idealizational approach to science, viz. the structure of econometric model, in order to draw some new conclusions concerning the method of testing employed in economics. Also B. HAMMINGA (“Idealization in the Practice and Methodology of Classical Economics”) uses economic examples to put forward quite a general problem of the cognitive sense of idealization in science. He makes the point that the pragmatic side of the method as a method of argumentation in science is of importance and illustrates this by reference to the history of idealization in economics. K. PAPRZYCKA (“Why Do Idealizational Statements Apply to Reality?”) points out that in the standard form of an idealizational law one element is sufficiently not clarified, viz. the so-called realistic condition, and she proposes a new reconstruction of the form of idealizational laws. As a result of it, the troublesome problem of the application of an idealizational law (if they apply to ideal types, then in what sense are they applicable to actual objects?) becomes more easy to comprehend. M. PAPRZYCKI and K. PAPRZYCKA (“Accuracy, Essentiality and Idealization”) raise a problem why it is so that some phenomena allow us to predict their outcomes quite accurately on the basis of the approximation of an idealizational law while for some other phenomena only the approximation of an almost complete concretization, which is practically impossible to obtain, could give us comparable accuracy. A solution lies in the new notion of the accuracy of an idealizational law which is carefully constructed and discussed in the paper.

The volume also contains some old Polish papers from the 70-ties which appear in English for the first time: I. NOWAKOWA “A Notion of Truth for Idealization”, I. NOWAKOWA and L. NOWAK, “‘Truth is a System’: an Explication”, I. NOWAKOWA, “The Idea of ‘Truth as a Process’. An Explication”, L. NOWAK, “On the Concept of Adequacy of Laws. An Idealizational Explication”, R. ZIELINSKA, “The Threshold Generalization of the Idealizational Laws”). The first paper by Nowakowa proves the inapplicability of the classical definition of truth in the domain of idealizations and proposes a certain non-classical approach to truth building on some Hegelian ideas. The other two papers by her discuss various aspects of this definition. The paper by Zielinska analyzes the procedure of removing certain counterfactual assumptions about the form of a function (such as e.g., “assume that F depends on H in a linear way”) in idealizational statements.

Moreover, the volume contains several polemics with the idealizational approach to science. An extensive study by M. KUOKKANEN and T. TUOMIVAARA (“On the Structure of Idealization. Explorations in the Poznan School Methodology of Science”) brings not only a criticism of some aspects of the original approach (notably the conception of the so-called quasi-idealization and the definition of an essential factor, both proposed by L. Nowak) but it also attempts to reformulate the structuralist methodology so that the method of idealization could find its natural place there.

Among discussion-papers, there is a brief but interesting contribution by M. PAPRZYCKI and K. PAPRZYCKA (“A Note on the Unitarian Explication of Idealization”). The authors correct the above mentioned original definition of an essential property and make a distinction between the notion of influence and essentiality.


Barr, W.F. (1971). A Syntactic and Semantic Analysis of Idealizations in Science. Philosophy of Science, 38, 258 — 272.

Cartwright, N. (1983). How the Laws of Physics Lie? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature’s Capacities and Their Measurement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kuipers, T.A.F. (1982). Approaching Descriptive and Theoretical Truth. Erkenntnis, 18, 343-87.

Kuipers, T.A.F. (1987). A Structuralist Approach to Truthlikeness. In: T.A.F. Kuipers (Ed.), What is Closer-to-the-Truth? (Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, 10), Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp.79-99.

Laymon, R. (1980). Idealization, Explanation, and Confirmation. In: P.D. Asquith and R.N. Giere (Eds.) PSA, vol.I. East Lansing: Philosophy of Science Association, pp. 336- 50.

Ludwig, G. (1981). Imprecision in Physics. In: A. Hartkaemper and H.-J. Schmidt (Eds.), Structure and Approximation in Physical Theories. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 7- 19.

Nowak, L. (1971). The Model of Explanation in Marx’s Capital. Quality & Quantity, Vol. 2, 311-30.

Nowak, L. (1972). Theories, Idealization and Measurement. Philosophy of Science, 39, 4, 533-47.

Nowak, L. (1980). The Structure of Idealization. Toward a Systematic Interpretation of the Marxian Idea of Science. Dordrecht/Boston: Reidel.

Suppe, F. (1972). What’s wrong with the Received View on the structure of scientific theories? Philosophy of Science, 39, 1-19.