An instrumentalist take on the models of the Free-Energy Principle

Niccolo Aimone Pisano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, by means of a novel use of insights from the literature on scientific modelling, I will argue in favour of an instrumentalist approach to the models that are crucially involved in the study of adaptive systems within the Free-Energy Principle (FEP) framework. I will begin (§2) by offering a general, informal characterisation of FEP. Then (§3), I will argue that the models involved in FEP-theorising are plausibly intended to be isomorphic to their targets. This will allow (§4) to turn the criticisms moved against isomorphism-based accounts of representation towards the FEP modelling practice. Since failure to establish an isomorphism between model and target would result in the former’s failure to represent the latter, and given that it is highly unlikely that FEP-models are ever isomorphic to their targets, maintaining that FEP-models represent their targets as they are, in a realist sense, is unwarranted. Finally (§5), I will consider what implications my argument in favour of an instrumentalist reading of FEP-models has for attempts at making use of the FEP to elaborate an account of what cognition exactly is. My conclusion is that we should not dismiss FEP-based accounts of cognition, as they would still be informative and would further our understanding of the nature of cognition. Nonetheless, the prospects of settling the philosophical debates that sparked the interest in having a “mark of the cognitive” are not good.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2023


  • Free-Energy Principle
  • Cognition
  • Scientific models
  • Scientific representation
  • Instrumentalism


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