David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook 10:281--296 (2003)
One of the most basic methods of philosophy is, and has always been, the consideration of counterfactual cases and imaginary scenarios. One purpose of doing so obviously is to test our theories against such counterfactual cases. Although this method is widespread, it is far from being commonly accepted. Especially during the last two decades it has been confronted with criticism ranging from complete dismissal to denying only its critical powers to a cautious defense of the use of thought experiments as counterexamples. One of the strongest criticisms of the method of thought experimentation is "modal skepticism" as explicated and defended by Peter van Inwagen. Van Inwagen argues that the philosopher's notion of logical possibility is confused and that its epistemology is dubious. I argue that van Inwagen's skepticism is unwarranted. There is a sufficiently clear notion of logical possibility and a sufficiently straightforward way of getting to know what is logically possible. In the remainder of the paper I show how that connects with the methodology of thought experimentation in philosophy.
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