In philosophy of science, abstraction tends to be subsumed under representation, often being described as the omission of a target’s features when it is represented. This approach to abstraction sidesteps cognitive aspects of abstraction processes. However, cognitive aspects of abstraction are important in understanding the role of historically grounded epistemic criteria supporting modeling in science. Drawing on recent work on the relation between metaphor and abstraction, we introduce the concept of paths of abstraction, and use historical and contemporary examples to point to their role in guiding the development of relevance criteria which support modeling strategies in science.

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Author notes

The authors would like to thank Tarja Knuuttila, Andrea Loettgers, Sergio Gallegos Ordorica, Nicholaos Jones, and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on a previous version of this article. This project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 818772) and from the UNAM PAPIIT project “Cognición, artefactualidad y representación en la ciencia” IN402018.

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