Empirical thought experiments: A trascendental-operational view

Abstract
The operational perspective here defended permits a reflexive-transcendental point of view that sharply distinguishes the two concepts, while, at the same time, maintaining the connection between them. On the one hand, simply imagining that the experimental apparatus, counterfactually anticipated in a thought experiment, has really been constructed is sufficient to erase any difference between thought and real experiments. On the other hand, this very ‘imagining’, this capacity of the mind to assume every real entity as a possible entity, underpins the difference in principle – a properly transcendental difference – between thought and real experiments. This difference, however, implies the intimate association between experiment and thought experiment: All thought experiments must be thought of as translatable into real ones, and all real experiments as realisations of thought ones. What thought experiments have over and above real experiments is the mere fact that they exist in a purely hypothetical sphere; what real have over and above thought experiments is the mere fact that they overstep the sphere of the possible, in the experiment’s real execution.
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