Toward a constructivist epistemology of thought experiments in science

Synthese 191 (8):1697-1716 (2014)

Kristian Camilleri
University of Melbourne
This paper presents a critical analysis of Tamar Szabó Gendler’s view of thought experiments, with the aim of developing further a constructivist epistemology of thought experiments in science. While the execution of a thought experiment cannot be reduced to standard forms of inductive and deductive inference, in the process of working though a thought experiment, a logical argument does emerge and take shape. Taking Gendler’s work as a point of departure, I argue that performing a thought experiment involves a process of self-interrogation, in which we are compelled to reflect on our pre-existing knowledge of the world. In doing so, we are forced to make judgments about what assumptions we see as relevant and how they apply to an imaginary scenario. This brings to light the extent to which certain forms of skill, beyond the ability to make valid logical inferences, are necessary to execute a thought experiment well
Keywords Thought experiments  Gendler  Cognitive skill  Constructivism  Science  Imaginary scenarios
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11229-013-0358-1
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 46,206
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Thought Experiments.Roy A. Sorensen - 1992 - Oxford University Press.
The Epistemic Value of Understanding.Henk W. de Regt - 2009 - Philosophy of Science 76 (5):585-597.

View all 23 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Taming Theory with Thought Experiments: Understanding and Scientific Progress.Michael T. Stuart - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 58:24-33.
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.
Knowing What Would Happen: The Epistemic Strategies in Galileo's Thought Experiments.Kristian Camilleri - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 54:102-112.
Evaluating the Cognitive Success of Thought Experiments.Damián Islas Mondragón - 2017 - Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science 3:68-76.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Galileo and the Indispensability of Scientific Thought Experiment.Tamar Szabó Gendler - 1998 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49 (3):397-424.
Why Thought Experiments Are Not Arguments.Michael A. Bishop - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (4):534-541.
How to Reconstruct a Thought Experiment.Marek Picha - 2011 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 18 (2):154-188.
Thought Experiments Rethought—and Reperceived.Tamar Szabó Gendler - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1152-1163.
Rethinking Thought Experiments.Alisa Bokulich - 2001 - Perspectives on Science 9 (3):285-307.
Thought Experiments.Roy A. Sorensen - 1992 - Oxford University Press.
Empirical Thought Experiments: A Trascendental-Operational View.Buzzoni Marco - 2010 - Epistemologia. An Italian Journal for the Philosophy of Science 33:05-26.


Added to PP index

Total views
78 ( #111,960 of 2,285,691 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
9 ( #107,211 of 2,285,691 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature