Thought experiments and the belief in phenomena

Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1164-1175 (2004)
Thought experiment acquires evidential significance only on particular metaphysical assumptions. These include the thesis that science aims at uncovering "phenomena"universal and stable modes in which the world is articulatedand the thesis that phenomena are revealed imperfectly in actual occurrences. Only on these Platonically inspired assumptions does it make sense to bypass experience of actual occurrences and perform thought experiments. These assumptions are taken to hold in classical physics and other disciplines, but not in sciences that emphasize variety and contingency, such as Aristotelian natural philosophy and some forms of historiography. This explains why thought experiments carry weight in the former but not the latter disciplines.
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DOI 10.1086/421421
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