Remodeling the past

Foundations of Science 10 (1):47-66 (2005)
In some of the papers in which she develops and defends the mental modelview of thought experiments in physics, Nersessian expresses the belief that her account has implications for thought experiments in other domains as well. In this paper, I argue, firstly, that counterfactual reasoning has a legitimate place in historical inquiry, and secondly, that the mental model view can account for such "alternative histories". I proceed as follows. Firstly, I review the main accounts of thought experiments in physics and point at some explanatory advantages of the mental model view. Subsequently, I argue that historians cannot dispense with counterfactual reasoning altogether and qualify a number of principled objections against the explicit use of alternative histories for theoretical purposes. Finally, I show that the mental model view can account for such thought experiments in history.
Keywords counterfactual analysis  counterfactual reasoning  historiography  history  mental models  modal reasoning  thought experiments
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DOI 10.1007/s10699-005-3005-6
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Ian Hacking (1992). Do Thought Experiments Have a Life of Their Own? Comments on James Brown, Nancy Nersessian and David Gooding. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1992:302 - 308.
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