The Anatomy of Three Thought Experiments in Plato's Republic, Apology, and Alcibiades Minor

I argue that Plato’s use of thought experiments anticipate many of the themes discussed by Thomas S. Kuhn’s classic essay, “A Function for Thought Experiments.” Kuhn’s concern is that thought experiments satisfy the condition of verisimilitude. That is, thought experiments must not be conducted merely to alter the conceptual apparatus of the scientist regarding the phenomenon explored, but rather to alter the scientist’s conceptual apparatus for the sake of altering his actions (i.e., practical rationality). Plato, too, is quite concerned with getting interlocutors to appreciate that theory not be separated from practice, and that theory is necessary for the process of effective decision making. Each of the interlocutors presented in the Republic, Apology and Alcibiades Minor are confrontedwith a thought experiment that is designed to effect how they choose to live. Although the three dialogues I discuss illustrate the Kuhnian admonishment against separating theory form practice, many other dialogues in the Platonic corpus echo Kuhn’s concerns
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DOI 10.5840/jpr_2010_8
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