The evidential significance of thought experiment in science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 27 (2):233-250 (1996)
The most promising way to regard thought experiment is as a species of experiment, alongside concrete experiment. Of the authors who take this view, many portray thought experiment as possessing evidential significance intrinsically. In contrast, concrete experiment is nowadays most convincingly portrayed as acquiring evidential significance in a particular area of science at a particular time in consequence of the persuasive efforts of scientists. I argue that the claim that thought experiment possesses evidential significance intrinsically is contradicted by the history of science. Thought experiment, like concrete experiment, has evidential significance only where particular assumptions--such as the Galilean doctrine of phenomena--are taken to hold; under alternative premises, in themselves equally defensible, thought experiment is evidentially inert.
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