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Approximation and Idealization: Why the Difference Matters*

John D. Norton
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 79, No. 2 (April 2012), pp. 207-232
DOI: 10.1086/664746
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664746
Page Count: 26
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Approximation and Idealization: Why the Difference Matters*
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Abstract

It is proposed that we use the term “approximation” for inexact description of a target system and “idealization” for another system whose properties also provide an inexact description of the target system. Since systems generated by a limiting process can often have quite unexpected—even inconsistent—properties, familiar limit processes used in statistical physics can fail to provide idealizations but merely provide approximations.

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