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The Monist

Volume 82, Issue 1, January 1999

Philosophy of Computer Science

James H. Fetzer
Pages 20-36

The Role Of Models In Computer Science

Taking Brian Cantwell Smith’s study, “Limits of Correctness in Computers,” as its point of departure, this article explores the role of models in computer science. Smith identifies two kinds of models that play an important role, where specifications are models of problems and programs are models of possible solutions. Both presuppose the existence of conceptualizations as ways of conceiving the world “in certain delimited ways.” But high-level programming languages also function as models of virtual (or abstract) machines, while low-level programming languages function as models of causal (or physical) machines. The resulting account suggests that sets of models embedded within models are indispensable for computer programming.