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Why Thought Experiments Do Not Transcend Empiricism

In Christopher Hitchcock (ed.), Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Science. Blackwell. pp. 44-66 (2002)

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  1. Thought Experiments: State of the Art.Michael T. Stuart, Yiftach Fehige & James R. Brown - 2018 - In Michael T. Stuart, Yiftach J. H. Fehige & James Robert Brown (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments. London, UK: Routledge. pp. 1-28.
    This is the introduction to the Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments.
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  • Phenomenology and Thought Experiments. Thought Experiments as Anticipation Pumps.Harald A. Wiltsche - 2018 - In James Robert Brown, Yiftach J. H. Fehige & Michael T. Stuart (eds.), Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments. New York, NY, USA:
    The aim of this paper is to present an outline of a phenomenological theory of thought experiments. In doing so, I am dealing with a topic that is currently starting to receive increased attention from philosophers with phenomenological leanings. However, since no serious attempt has been made to tackle the issue in a systematic fashion, I will not merely review existing phenomenological work on thought experiments. For the most part, my paper is programmatic: its aim is to suggest some basic (...)
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  • What Notion of Possibility Should We Use in Assessing Scientific Thought Experiments?Rawad El Skaf - 2017 - Lato Sensu, Revue de la Société de Philosophie des Sciences 4 (1).
    It is usually claimed that in order to assess a thought experiment we should assess the nomological possibility, or realizability in principle, of its scenario. This is undoubtedly true for many TEs, such as Bohr’s reply to Einstein’s photon box. Nevertheless, in some cases, such as Maxwell’s demon, this requirement should be relaxed. Many accounts of TEs fail in this regard. In particular, experimental and some mental model accounts are too strict, since they always require realizability in principle. This paper (...)
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  • Intuitions in Science: Thought Experiments as Argument Pumps.Darrell Patrick Rowbottom - 2014 - In Anthony R. Booth & Darrell P. Rowbottom (eds.), Intuitions. Oxford University Press. pp. 119-134.
    In this piece, I advocate and motivate a new understanding of thought experiments, which avoids problems with the rival accounts of Brown and Norton.
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  • Evaluating the Cognitive Success of Thought Experiments.Damián Islas Mondragón - 2017 - Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science 3:68-76.
    Thought experiments are widely used in natural science research. Nonetheless, their reliability to produce cognitive results has been a disputable matter. This study is conducted to present some rules of confirmation for evaluating the cognitive outcome of thought experiments. I begin given an example of a “paradigmatic” thought experiment from Galileo Galilei: the falling bodies. Afterwards, I briefly surveying two different accounts of thought experiments: James R. Brown’s rationalism and John D. Norton’s empiricism. Then, I discuss their positions and I (...)
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  • Thought Experiments, Real Experiments, and the Expertise Objection.Christopher Hitchcock - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (2):205-218.
    It is a commonplace that in philosophy, intuitions supply evidence for and against philosophical theories. Recent work in experimental philosophy has brought to bear the intuitions of philosophically naïve subjects in a number of different ways. One line of response to this work has been to claim that philosophers have expertise that privileges their intuitive judgments, and allows them to disregard the judgments of non-experts. This expertise is supposed to be analogous to the expertise of the mathematician or the physicist. (...)
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  • How Can Computer Simulations Produce New Knowledge?Claus Beisbart - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (3):395-434.
    It is often claimed that scientists can obtain new knowledge about nature by running computer simulations. How is this possible? I answer this question by arguing that computer simulations are arguments. This view parallels Norton’s argument view about thought experiments. I show that computer simulations can be reconstructed as arguments that fully capture the epistemic power of the simulations. Assuming the extended mind hypothesis, I furthermore argue that running the computer simulation is to execute the reconstructing argument. I discuss some (...)
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  • Unfolding in the Empirical Sciences: Experiments, Thought Experiments and Computer Simulations.Rawad El Skaf & Cyrille Imbert - 2013 - Synthese 190 (16):3451-3474.
    Experiments (E), computer simulations (CS) and thought experiments (TE) are usually seen as playing different roles in science and as having different epistemologies. Accordingly, they are usually analyzed separately. We argue in this paper that these activities can contribute to answering the same questions by playing the same epistemic role when they are used to unfold the content of a well-described scenario. We emphasize that in such cases, these three activities can be described by means of the same conceptual framework—even (...)
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  • Imagination and Insight: A New Acount of the Content of Thought Experiments.Letitia Meynell - 2014 - Synthese 191 (17):4149-4168.
    This paper motivates, explains, and defends a new account of the content of thought experiments. I begin by briefly surveying and critiquing three influential accounts of thought experiments: James Robert Brown’s Platonist account, John Norton’s deflationist account that treats them as picturesque arguments, and a cluster of views that I group together as mental model accounts. I use this analysis to motivate a set of six desiderata for a new approach. I propose that we treat thought experiments primarily as aesthetic (...)
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  • Philosophical Thought Experiments as Heuristics for Theory Discovery.Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen & Sara Kier Praëm - 2015 - Synthese 192 (9):2827-2842.
    The growing literature on philosophical thought experiments has so far focused almost exclusively on the role of thought experiments in confirming or refuting philosophical hypotheses or theories. In this paper we draw attention to an additional and largely ignored role that thought experiments frequently play in our philosophical practice: some thought experiments do not merely serve as means for testing various philosophical hypotheses or theories, but also serve as facilitators for conceiving and articulating new ones. As we will put it, (...)
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  • Norton and the Logic of Thought Experiments.Michael T. Stuart - 2016 - Axiomathes 26 (4):451-466.
    John D. Norton defends an empiricist epistemology of thought experiments, the central thesis of which is that thought experiments are nothing more than arguments. Philosophers have attempted to provide counterexamples to this claim, but they haven’t convinced Norton. I will point out a more fundamental reason for reformulation that criticizes Norton’s claim that a thought experiment is a good one when its underlying logical form possesses certain desirable properties. I argue that by Norton’s empiricist standards, no thought experiment is ever (...)
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  • Synthesizing Insight: Artificial Life as Thought Experimentation in Biology.Liz Stillwaggon Swan - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (5):687-701.
    What is artificial life? Much has been said about this interesting collection of efforts to artificially simulate and synthesize lifelike behavior and processes, yet we are far from having a robust philosophical understanding of just what Alifers are doing and why it ought to interest philosophers of science, and philosophers of biology in particular. In this paper, I first provide three introductory examples from the particular subset of artificial life I focus on, known as ‘soft Alife’ (s-Alife), and follow up (...)
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  • “Platonic” Thought Experiments: How on Earth?Rafal Urbaniak - 2012 - Synthese 187 (2):731-752.
    Brown (The laboratory of the mind. Thought experiments in the natural science, 1991a , 1991b ; Contemporary debates in philosophy of science, 2004 ; Thought experiments, 2008 ) argues that thought experiments (TE) in science cannot be arguments and cannot even be represented by arguments. He rest his case on examples of TEs which proceed through a contradiction to reach a positive resolution (Brown calls such TEs “platonic”). This, supposedly, makes it impossible to represent them as arguments for logical reasons: (...)
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  • Incredible Worlds, Credible Results.Jaakko Kuorikoski & Aki Lehtinen - 2009 - Erkenntnis 70 (1):119-131.
    Robert Sugden argues that robustness analysis cannot play an epistemic role in grounding model-world relationships because the procedure is only a matter of comparing models with each other. We posit that this argument is based on a view of models as being surrogate systems in too literal a sense. In contrast, the epistemic importance of robustness analysis is easy to explicate if modelling is viewed as extended cognition, as inference from assumptions to conclusions. Robustness analysis is about assessing the reliability (...)
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  • Zum Verhältnis zwischen Experiment und Gedankenexperiment in den Naturwissenschaften.Marco Buzzoni - 2007 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 38 (2):219-237.
    On the relation between experiment and thought experiment in the natural sciences. To understand the reciprocal autonomy and complementarity of thought and real experiment, it is necessary to distinguish between a ‘positive’ (empirical or formal) and a transcendental perspective. Empirically and formally, real and thought experiments are indistinguishable. However, from a reflexive-transcendental viewpoint thought experiment is at the same time irreducible and complementary to real experiment. This is due to the fact that the hypothetical-anticipatory moment is in principle irreducible to (...)
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  • Towards a Dual Process Epistemology of Imagination.Michael T. Stuart - 2019 - Synthese:1-22.
    Sometimes we learn through the use of imagination. The epistemology of imagination asks how this is possible. One barrier to progress on this question has been a lack of agreement on how to characterize imagination; for example, is imagination a mental state, ability, character trait, or cognitive process? This paper argues that we should characterize imagination as a cognitive ability, exercises of which are cognitive processes. Following dual process theories of cognition developed in cognitive science, the set of imaginative processes (...)
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  • The Place of Thought Experiments in Philosophy.Filip Tvrdý - 2018 - Teorie Vědy / Theory of Science 40 (2):211-229.
    Myšlenkové experimenty jsou populárním argumentačním nástrojem ve vědě i filosofii. Jejich kritika ze strany naturalistických a experimentálních filosofů vedla k vytvoření deflačních a minimalistických koncepcí, které oslabují epistemickou sílu myšlenkových experimentů a smiřují je s empirismem. Cílem článku je ukázat, že tyto pokusy nepřekonávají hlavní problémy, se kterými se myšlenkové experimenty ve filosofii střetávají. Omezená lidská racionalita a představivost znemožňují experimentátorům řešit nereálné scénáře spolehlivým způsobem. Myšlenkové experimenty se ve filosofii používají jinak než ve vědě, protože ty pravé jsou obvykle (...)
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  • Gedankenexperimente in der Philosophie.Daniel Cohnitz - 2006 - Mentis.
    Wie ist es wohl, eine Fledermaus zu sein? Wäre ein rein physikalisches Duplikat von mir nur ein empfindungsloser Zombie? Muss man sich seinem Schicksal ergeben, wenn man sich unfreiwillig als lebensnotwendige Blutwaschanlage eines weltberühmten Violinisten wieder findet? Kann man sich wünschen, der König von China zu sein? Bin ich vielleicht nur ein Gehirn in einem Tank mit Nährflüssigkeit, das die Welt von einer Computersimulation vorgegaukelt bekommt? Worauf beziehen sich die Menschen auf der Zwillingserde mit ihrem Wort 'Wasser', wenn es bei (...)
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  • Thought Experiments and Mental Simulations.John Zeimbekis - 2011 - In Katerina Ierodiakonou & Sophie Roux (eds.), Thought Experiments in Methodological and Historical Contexts. Brill.
    Thought experiments have a mysterious way of informing us about the world, apparently without examining it, yet with a great degree of certainty. It is tempting to try to explain this capacity by making use of the idea that in thought experiments, the mind somehow simulates the processes about which it reaches conclusions. Here, I test this idea. I argue that when they predict the outcomes of hypothetical physical situations, thought experiments cannot simulate physical processes. They use mental models, which (...)
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  • How to Reconstruct a Thought Experiment.Marek Picha - 2011 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 18 (2):154-188.
    The paper is a contribution to the debate on the epistemological status of thought experiments. I deal with the epistemological uniqueness of experiments in the sense of their irreducibility to other sources of justification. In particular, I criticize an influential argument for the irreducibility of thought experiments to general arguments. First, I introduce the radical empiricist theory of eliminativism, which considers thought experiments to be rhetorically modified arguments, uninteresting from the epistemological point of view. Second, I present objections to the (...)
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  • The Impossible Process: Thermodynamic Reversibility.John D. Norton - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 55:43-61.
    Standard descriptions of thermodynamically reversible processes attribute contradictory properties to them: they are in equilibrium yet still change their state. Or they are comprised of non-equilibrium states that are so close to equilibrium that the difference does not matter. One cannot have states that both change and no not change at the same time. In place of this internally contradictory characterization, the term “thermodynamically reversible process” is here construed as a label for a set of real processes of change involving (...)
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  • On the Identity of Thought Experiments: Thought Experiments Rethought.Alisa Bokulich & Mélanie Frappier - 2017 - In Michael T. Stuart, Yiftach J. H. Fehige & James Robert Brown (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments. Routledge.
  • Why Monte Carlo Simulations Are Inferences and Not Experiments.Claus Beisbart & John D. Norton - 2012 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26 (4):403-422.
    Monte Carlo simulations arrive at their results by introducing randomness, sometimes derived from a physical randomizing device. Nonetheless, we argue, they open no new epistemic channels beyond that already employed by traditional simulations: the inference by ordinary argumentation of conclusions from assumptions built into the simulations. We show that Monte Carlo simulations cannot produce knowledge other than by inference, and that they resemble other computer simulations in the manner in which they derive their conclusions. Simple examples of Monte Carlo simulations (...)
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  • The Dual Nature View of Thought Experiments.Tim De Mey - 2003 - Philosophica 72.
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  • REVIEW: James R. Brown, Laboratory of the Mind. [REVIEW]Michael T. Stuart - 2012 - Spontaneous Generations 6 (1):237-241.
    Originally published in 1991, The Laboratory of the Mind: Thought Experiments in the Natural Sciences, is the first monograph to identify and address some of the many interesting questions that pertain to thought experiments. While the putative aim of the book is to explore the nature of thought experimental evidence, it has another important purpose which concerns the crucial role thought experiments play in Brown’s Platonic master argument.In that argument, Brown argues against naturalism and empiricism (Brown 2012), for mathematical Platonism (...)
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  • Thought Experiments Considered Harmful.Paul Thagard - 2014 - Perspectives on Science 22 (2):122-139.
    Thought experiments have been influential in philosophy at least since Plato, and they have contributed to science at least since Galileo. Some of this influence is appropriate, because thought experiments can have legitimate roles in generating and clarifying hypotheses, as well as in identifying problems in competing hypotheses. I will argue, however, that philosophers have often overestimated the significance of thought experiments by supposing that they can provide evidence that supports the acceptance of beliefs. Accepting hypotheses merely on the basis (...)
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  • Paradoxes of Sailing.John D. Norton - unknown
    Paradoxes have long been a driving force in philosophy. They compel us to think more clearly about what we otherwise take for granted. In Antiquity, Zeno insisted that a runner could never complete the course because he’d first need to go half way, and then half way again; and so on indefinitely. Zeno also argued that matter could not be infinitely divisible, else it would be made of parts of no size at all. Even infinitely many nothings combined still measure (...)
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  • The Dome: An Unexpectedly Simple Failure of Determinism.John D. Norton - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (5):786-798.
    Newton’s equations of motion tell us that a mass at rest at the apex of a dome with the shape specified here can spontaneously move. It has been suggested that this indeterminism should be discounted since it draws on an incomplete rendering of Newtonian physics, or it is “unphysical,” or it employs illicit idealizations. I analyze and reject each of these reasons. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA (...)
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  • Rawls' Theory of Justice: A Naturalistic Evaluation.Ho Mun Chan - 2005 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 30 (5):449-465.
  • ‘Spuntar Lo Scoglio Più Duro’: Did Galileo Ever Think the Most Beautiful Thought Experiment in the History of Science?Paolo Palmieri - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 36 (2):223-240.
    Still today it remains unclear whether Galileo ever climbed the leaning tower of Pisa in order to drop bodies from its top. Some believe that he established the principle of equal speeds for falling bodies by means of an ingenious thought experiment. However, the reconstruction of that thought experiment circulating in the philosophical literature is no more than a cartoon. In this paper I will tell the story of the thought processes behind the cartoon.Keywords: Galileo Galilei; Thought experiment; Falling bodies.
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  • Thought Experiments: Determining Their Meaning.Igal Galili - 2009 - Science & Education 18 (1):1-23.
  • Thought Experiments and Philosophical Knowledge.Edouard Machery - 2011 - Metaphilosophy 42 (3):191-214.
    : While thought experiments play an important role in contemporary analytic philosophy, much remains unclear about thought experiments. In particular, it is still unclear whether the judgments elicited by thought experiments can provide evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments. This article argues that, if an influential and promising view about the nature of the judgments elicited by thought experiments is correct, then many thought experiments in philosophy fail to provide any evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments.
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  • Literature and Thought Experiments.David Egan - 2016 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74 (2):139-150.
    Like works of literature, thought experiments present fictional narratives that prompt reflection in their readers. Because of these and other similarities, a number of philosophers have argued for a strong analogy between works of literary fiction and thought experiments, some going so far as to say that works of literary fiction are a species of thought experiment. These arguments are often used in defending a cognitivist position with regard to literature: thought experiments produce knowledge, so works of literary fiction can (...)
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  • Imagination's Grip on Science.Tim Mey - 2006 - Metaphilosophy 37 (2):222-239.
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  • The Puzzle of Thought Experiments in Conceptual Metaphor Research.András Kertész - 2015 - Foundations of Science 20 (2):147-174.
    How can thought experiments lead to new empirical knowledge if they do not make use of empirical information? This puzzle has been widely discussed in the philosophy of science. It arises in conceptual metaphor research as well and is especially important for the clarification of its empirical foundations. The aim of the paper is to suggest a possible solution to the puzzle of thought experiments in conceptual metaphor research. The solution rests on the application of a novel metatheoretical framework that (...)
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  • Quantum Physics and Theology: John Polkinghorne on Thought Experiments.Yiftach J. H. Fehige - 2012 - Zygon 47 (2):256-288.
    Abstract Thought experimentation is part of accepted scientific practice, and this makes it surprising that philosophers of science did not seriously engage with it for a very long time. The situation changed in the 1990s, resulting in a highly intriguing debate over thought experiments. Initially, the discussion focused mostly on thought experiments in physics, philosophy, and mathematics. Other disciplines have since become the subject of interest. Yet, nothing substantial has been said about the role of thought experiments in nonphilosophical theology. (...)
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