David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Croatian Journal of Philosophy 7 (1):47-61 (2007)
Recent debates about thought experiments have focused on a perceived epistemological problem: how do thought experiments manage to provide knowledge when they yield no new empirical data? A bold answer to this question is provided by James Robert Brown’s platonisrn, according to which a certain class of thought experiments allow a sort of intellectual perception of laws of nature, understood as relations between universals. I suggest that there are three main problems with platonism. First, it is restricted to a very small class of thought experiments; hence, it largely fails to address the general epistemological problem. Second, it is not quite clear what it is supposed to explain. Third, its explanatory value in any case seems dubious, since the mechanisms it postulates (i) appear to raise issues more ditficult than what they would explain, and (ii) seem to obviate the very need for conducting thought experiments. I also argue that it fails to give an accurate account of Brown’s flagship example, Galileo’s thought experiment on falling bodies. In conclusion, I suggest that although platonism about thought experiments is an exciting thesis, it is at present unconvincing.
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