The epistemology of thought experiments: A non-eliminativist, non-platonic account [Book Review]

Hayley Clatterbuck
University of Rochester
Several major breakthroughs in the history of physics have been prompted not by new empirical data but by thought experiments. James Robert Brown and John Norton have developed accounts of how thought experiments can yield such advances. Brown argues that knowledge gained via thought experiments demands a Platonic explanation; thought experiments for Brown are a window into the Platonic realm of the laws of nature. Norton argues that thought experiments are just cleverly disguised inductive or deductive arguments, so no new account of their epistemology is needed. In this paper, I argue that although we do not need to invoke any Platonic insight to explain thought experimentation, Norton’s eliminativist account fails to capture the unique epistemological importance of thought experiments qua thought experiments. I then present my own account, according to which thought experiments are a particular type of inductive inference that is uniquely suited to generate new breakthroughs
Keywords Thought experiments  Galileo’s ship  Platonism  Empiricism
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DOI 10.1007/s13194-013-0069-y
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References found in this work BETA

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1955 - Harvard University Press.
Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases.Alastair Norcross - 2004 - Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):229–245.
Are Thought Experiments Just What You Thought?John Norton - 1996 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26 (3):333 - 366.

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Citations of this work BETA

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.
Evaluating the Cognitive Success of Thought Experiments.Damián Islas Mondragón - 2017 - Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science 3:68-76.

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