Thought Experiments in Science Studies

Philosophica 72 (2):1-25 (2003)
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In this paper I examine the role of thought experiments in the social studies of science. More specifically, I will focus on two strands of social studies of science: the so-called sociology of scientific knowledge and the naturalistically oriented philosophy of science with interest in social dimensions of science. I begin by discussing David Hull's views on thought experiments in the study of science. His account serves as a foil that helps me to make some points about thought experiments. As an illustration I discuss two example of thought experimenting in the social studies of science. The first example is the use of thought experiments by the sociologists of scientific knowledge, and the second case will be the recent work by Philip Kitcher on division of cognitive labour. With the help of these cases, I argue that Hull's negative attitude towards the use of thought experiments requires some, tempering. The notion of thought experiment will be understood broadly in this paper. One could also talk about imaginary or hypothetical examples. In social sciences the contrast for thought experiments is not an experiment, but an empirical case study. Accordingly, thought experiment in social science in an imaginary case study or a made up historical scenario. The focus of my discussion is on the various functions and argumentative roles thought experiments have or could have in social studies of science. An empirical experiment (or a case study) is not an argument by itself, nor is a thought experiment. However, they both are used in making arguments and my aim is to look how they are used.



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Petri Ylikoski
University of Helsinki

Citations of this work

Thought Experiments.Yiftach J. H. Fehige & James R. Brown - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 25 (1):135-142.

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