Sorensen presents a general theory of thoughtexperiments: what they are, how they work, what are their virtues and vices. On Sorensen's view, philosophy differs from science in degree, but not in kind. For this reason, he claims, it is possible to understand philosophical thoughtexperiments by concentrating on their resemblance to scientific relatives. Lessons learned about scientific experimentation carry over to thought experiment, and vice versa. Sorensen also assesses the hazards and pseudo-hazards of (...) class='Hi'>thoughtexperiments. Although he grants that there are interesting ways in which the method leads us astray, he attacks most scepticism about thoughtexperiments as arbitrary. They should be used, he says, as they generally are used--as part of a diversified portfolio of techniques. All of these devices are individually susceptible to abuse, fallacy, and error. Collectively, however, they provide a network of cross-checks that make for impressive reliability. (shrink)
: While thoughtexperiments play an important role in contemporary analytic philosophy, much remains unclear about thoughtexperiments. In particular, it is still unclear whether the judgments elicited by thoughtexperiments can provide evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments. This article argues that, if an influential and promising view about the nature of the judgments elicited by thoughtexperiments is correct, then many thoughtexperiments in philosophy fail to provide (...) any evidence for the premises of philosophical arguments. (shrink)
Philosophy and science employ abstract hypothetical scenarios- thoughtexperiments - to illustrate, defend, and dispute theoretical claims. Since thoughtexperiments furnish no new empirical observations, the method prompts two epistemological questions: whether anything may be learnt from the merely hypothetical, and, if so, how. Various sceptical arguments against the use of thoughtexperiments in philosophy are discussed and criticized. The thesis that thoughtexperiments in science provide a priori knowledge through non-sensory grasping (...) of abstract entities is discussed and rejected. The thesis that thought experimentation consists in manipulations of mental models is examined and found to be of limited epistemological relevance. It is argued that thoughtexperiments are associated with characteristic arguments in a manner similar to ordinary experiments. It is further argued that thoughtexperiments function in the same way as experiments in general: by providing premises for their associated arguments. Like other experiments, a thought experiment is successful when the premises it provides are true. This holds both for philosophical and scientific thoughtexperiments. An argument schema is proposed and shown to be a formal analogue to that associated with ordinary experiments; similar in being subject to epistemological holism; but differing in being modal: in employing statements about possibility and necessity. The evaluation of thoughtexperiments thus depends on how modal statements may be justified. Intuition and conceivability are discussed as sources of modal justification and found problematic. Instead it is suggested that evaluation proceed by accommodation of the statements describing the experiment's hypothetical scenario. The method of accommodation is developed and applied to five influential thoughtexperiments in philosophy: the brain in a vat; Putnam's Twin Earth; Burge's arthritis example; Searle's Chinese Room; and Newcomb's problem. Its application shows some of these to be failed, others to be successful only relative to controversial philosophical doctrines. (shrink)
What sorts of things are the intuitions generated via thought experiment? Timothy Williamson has responded to naturalistic skeptics by arguing that thought-experiment intuitions are judgments of ordinary counterfactuals. On this view, the intuition is naturalistically innocuous, but it has a contingent content and could be known at best a posteriori. We suggest an alternative to Williamson's account, according to which we apprehend thought-experiment intuitions through our grasp on truth in fiction. On our view, intuitions like the Gettier (...) intuition are necessarily true and knowable a priori. Our view, like Williamson's, avoids naturalistic skepticism. (shrink)
We might think that thoughtexperiments are at their most powerful or most interesting when they produce new knowledge. This would be a mistake; thoughtexperiments that seek understanding are just as powerful and interesting, and perhaps even more so. A growing number of epistemologists are emphasizing the importance of understanding for epistemology, arguing that it should supplant knowledge as the central notion. In this chapter, I bring the literature on understanding in epistemology to bear on (...) explicating the different ways that thoughtexperiments increase three important kinds of understanding: explanatory, objectual and practical. (shrink)
This book offers a novel analysis of the widely-used but ill-understood technique of thought experiment. The author argues that the powers and limits of this methodology can be traced to the fact that when the contemplation of an imaginary scenario brings us to new knowledge, it does so by forcing us to make sense of exceptional cases.
Are thoughtexperiments nothing but arguments? I argue that it is not possible to make sense of the historical trajectory of certain thoughtexperiments if one takes them to be arguments. Einstein and Bohr disagreed about the outcome of the clock-in-the-box thought experiment, and so they reconstructed it using different arguments. This is to be expected whenever scientists disagree about a thought experiment's outcome. Since any such episode consists of two arguments but just one (...)thought experiment, the thought experiment cannot be the arguments. (shrink)
In this book, Sorensen presents the first general theory of the thought experiment. He analyses a wide variety of thoughtexperiments, ranging from aesthetics to zoology, and explores what thoughtexperiments are, how they work, and what their positive and negative aspects are. Sorensen also sets his theory within an evolutionary framework and integrates recent advances in experimental psychology and the history of science.
‘Transplant’ thought-experiments, in which the cerebrum is moved from one body to another, have featured in a number of recent discussions in the personal identity literature. Once taken as offering confirmation of some form of psychological continuity theory of identity, arguments from Marya Schechtman and Kathleen Wilkes have contended that this is not the case. Any such apparent support is due to a lack of detail in their description or a reliance on predictions that we are in no (...) position to make. I argue that the case against them rests on two serious misunderstandings of the operation of thought-experiments, and that even if they do not ultimately support a psychological continuity theory, they do major damage to that theory’s opponents. (shrink)
Recent third person approaches to thoughtexperiments and conceptual analysis through the method of surveys are motivated by and motivate skepticism about the traditional first person method. I argue that such surveys give no good ground for skepticism, that they have some utility, but that they do not represent a fundamentally new way of doing philosophy, that they are liable to considerable methodological difficulties, and that they cannot be substituted for the first person method, since the a priori (...) knowledge which is our object in conceptual analysis can be acquired only from the first person standpoint. (shrink)
: This article seeks to explain how thoughtexperiments work, and also the reasons why they can fail. It is divided into four sections. The first argues that thoughtexperiments in philosophy and science should be treated together. The second examines existing accounts of thoughtexperiments and shows why they are inadequate. The third proposes a better account of thoughtexperiments. According to this account, a thought experimenter manipulates her worldview in (...) accord with the “what if” questions posed by a thought experiment. When all necessary manipulations are carried through, the result is either a consistent model or a contradiction. If a consistent model is achieved, the thought experimenter can conclude that the scenario is possible; if a consistent model cannot be constructed, then the scenario is not possible. The fourth section of the article uses this account to shed light on the circumstances in which thoughtexperiments fail. (shrink)
Much of the recent movement organized under the heading “Experimental Philosophy” has been concerned with the empirical study of responses to thoughtexperiments drawn from the literature on philosophical analysis. I consider what bearing these studies have on the traditional projects in which thoughtexperiments have been used in philosophy. This will help to answer the question what the relation is between Experimental Philosophy and philosophy, whether it is an “exciting new style of [philosophical] research”, “a (...) new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy” (Knobe et al. 2012), or whether its relation to philosophy consists, as some have suggested, in no more than the word ‘philosophy’ appearing in its title, or whether the truth lies somewhere in between these two views. I first distinguishes different strands in Experimental Philosophy, negative and positive x-phi, and x-phi pursuing philosophy as opposed to x-phi as cognitive science. Next I review some ways in which Experimental Philosophy has been criticized. Finally, I consider what would have to be true for Experimental Philosophy to have one or another sort of relevance to philosophy, whether the assumptions required are true, how we could know it, and the ideal limits of the usefulness Experimental Philosophy to philosophy. I conclude x-phi cannot in principle be a replacement for traditional first person approaches because it yields the wrong kind of knowledge and that it can nonetheless be a practical aid in conducting philosophical thoughtexperiments. n. (shrink)
Unlike in physics, the category of thought experiment is not very common in biology. At least there are no classic examples that are as important and as well-known as the most famous thoughtexperiments in physics, such as Galileo’s, Maxwell’s or Einstein’s. The reasons for this are far from obvious; maybe it has to do with the fact that modern biology for the most part sees itself as a thoroughly empirical discipline that engages either in real natural (...) history or in experimenting on real organisms rather than fictive ones. While theoretical biology does exist and is recognized as part of biology, its role within biology appears to be more marginal than the role of theoretical physics within physics. It could be that this marginality of theory also affects thoughtexperiments as sources of theoretical knowledge. Of course, none of this provides a sufficient reason for thinking that thoughtexperiments are really unimportant in biology. It is quite possible that the common perception of this matter is wrong and that there are important theoretical considerations in biology, past or present, that deserve the title of thought experiment just as much as the standard examples from physics. Some such considerations may even be widely known and considered to be important, but were not recognized as thoughtexperiments. In fact, as we shall see, there are reasons for thinking that what is arguably the single most important biological work ever, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, contains a number of thoughtexperiments. There are also more recent examples both in evolutionary and non-evolutionary biology, as we will show. Part of the problem in identifying positive examples in the history of biology is the lack of agreement as to what exactly a thought experiment is. Even worse, there may not be more than a family resemblance that unifies this epistemic category. We take it that classical thoughtexperiments show the following characteristics: They serve directly or indirectly in the non-empirical epistemic evaluation of theoretical propositions, explanations or hypotheses. Thoughtexperiments somehow appeal to the imagination. They involve hypothetical scenarios, which may or may not be fictive. In other words, thoughtexperiments suppose that certain states of affairs hold and then try to intuit what would happen in a world where these suppositions are true. We want to examine in the following sections if there are episodes in the history of biology that satisfy these criteria. As we will show, there are a few episodes that might satisfy all three of these criteria, and many more if the imagination criterion is dropped or understood in a lose sense. In any case, this criterion is somewhat vague in the first place, unless a specific account of the imagination is presupposed. There will also be issues as to what exactly “non-empirical” means. In general, for the sake of discussion we propose to understand the term “thought experiment” here in a broad rather than a narrow sense here. We would rather be guilty of having too wide a conception of thought experiment than of missing a whole range of really interesting examples. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments are ordinary argumentation disguised in a vivid pictorial or narrative form. This account of their nature will allow me to show that empiricism has nothing to fear from thoughtexperiments. They perform no epistemic magic. In so far as they tell us about the world, thoughtexperiments draw upon what we already know of it, either explicitly or tacitly; they then transform that knowledge by disguised argumentation. They can do nothing more epistemically (...) than can argumentation. I defend my account of thoughtexperiments in Section 3 by urging that the epistemic reach of thoughtexperiments turns out to coincide with that of argumentation and that this coincidence is best explained by the simple view that thoughtexperiments just are arguments. Thoughtexperiments can err—-a fact to be displayed by the thought experiment - anti thought experiment pairs of Section 2. Nonetheless thoughtexperiments can be used reliably and, I urge in Section 4., this is only possible if they are governed by some very generalized logic. I will suggest on evolutionary considerations that their logics are most likely the familiar logics of induction and deduction, recovering the view that thought experiment is argumentation. Finally in Section 5 I defend this argument based epistemology of thoughtexperiments against competing accounts. I suggest that these other accounts can offer a viable epistemology only insofar as they already incorporate the notion that thought experimentation is governed by a logic, possibly of very generalized form. (shrink)
Despite their centrality and importance to both science and philosophy, relatively little has been written about thoughtexperiments. This volume brings together a series of extremely interesting studies of the history, mechanics, and applications of this important intellectual resource. A distinguished list of philosophers and scientists consider the role of thoughtexperiments in their various disciplines, and argue that an examination of thought experimentation goes to the heart of both science and philosophy.
This chapter suggests a scheme of reconstruction, which explains how scenarios, questions and arguments figure in thoughtexperiments. It then develops a typology of ethical thoughtexperiments according to their function, which can be epistemic, illustrative, rhetorical, heuristic or theory-internal. Epistemic functions of supporting or refuting ethical claims rely on metaethical assumptions, for example, an epistemological background of reflective equilibrium. In this context, thoughtexperiments may involve intuitive as well as explicitly argued judgements; they (...) can be used to generate moral commitments, to explore consequences of moral theories, and to show inconsistencies within or between moral commitments and moral theory; but the results of thoughtexperiments by themselves do not settle what is epistemically justified and may also be rejected. Finally, some prominent challenges are discussed: do unrealistic scenarios undermine epistemic thoughtexperiments? Are ethical thoughtexperiments misleading? Do they rely on weak analogies? Are there specifically moral objections to ethical thoughtexperiments? (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments in science are merely picturesque argumentation. I support this view in various ways, including the claim that it follows from the fact that thoughtexperiments can err but can still be used reliably. The view is defended against alternatives proposed by my cosymposiasts.
The aim of this paper is to show how thoughtexperiments help us learn about laws. After providing examples of this kind of nomic illumination in the first section, I canvass explanations of our modal knowledge and opt for an evolutionary account. The basic application is that the laws of nature have led us to develop rough and ready intuitions of physical possibility which are then exploited by thought experimenters to reveal some of the very laws responsible (...) for those intuitions. The good news is that natural selection ensures a degree of reliability for the intuitions. The bad news is that the evolutionary account seems to limit the range of reliable thought experiment to highly practical and concrete contexts. In the fifth section, I provide reasons for thinking that we are not as slavishly limited as a pessimistic construal of natural selection suggests. Nevertheless, I promote the idea that biology is a promising source of predictions and diagnoses of thought experiment failures. (shrink)
Contemplating imaginary scenarios that evoke certain sorts of quasi‐sensory intuitions may bring us to new beliefs about contingent features of the natural world. These beliefs may be produced quasi‐observationally; the presence of a mental image may play a crucial cognitive role in the formation of the belief in question. And this albeit fallible quasi‐observational belief‐forming mechanism may, in certain contexts, be sufficiently reliable to count as a source of justification. This sheds light on the central puzzle surrounding scientific thought (...) experiment, which is how contemplation of an imaginary scenario can lead to new knowledge about contingent features of the natural world. (shrink)
The growing literature on philosophical thoughtexperiments has so far focused almost exclusively on the role of thoughtexperiments in confirming or refuting philosophical hypotheses or theories. In this paper we draw attention to an additional and largely ignored role that thoughtexperiments frequently play in our philosophical practice: some thoughtexperiments do not merely serve as means for testing various philosophical hypotheses or theories, but also serve as facilitators for conceiving and (...) articulating new ones. As we will put it, they serve as ‘heuristics for theory discovery’. Our purpose in the paper is two-fold: to make a case that this additional role of thoughtexperiments deserves the attention of philosophers interested in the methodology of philosophy; to sketch a tentative taxonomy of a number of distinct ways in which philosophical thoughtexperiments can aid theory discovery, which can guide future research on this role of thoughtexperiments. (shrink)
Although thoughtexperiments were first discovered as a sui generis methodological tool by philosophers of science (most prominently by Ernst Mach), the tool can also be found – even more frequently – in contemporary philosophy. Thoughtexperiments in philosophy and science have a lot in common. However, in this chapter we will concentrate on thoughtexperiments in philosophy only. Their use has been the centre of attention of metaphilosophical discussion in the past decade, and (...) this chapter will provide an overview of the results this discussion has achieved and point out which issues are still open. (shrink)
Experimental ethicists investigate traditional ethical questions with non-traditional means, namely with the methods of the empirical sciences. Studies in this area have made heavy use of philosophical thoughtexperiments such as the well-known trolley cases. Yet, the specific function of these thoughtexperiments within experimental ethics has received little consideration. In this paper we attempt to fill this gap. We begin by describing the function of ethical thoughtexperiments, and show that these thought (...)experiments should not only be classified according to their function but also according to their scope. On this basis we highlight several ways in which the use of thoughtexperiments in experimental ethics can be philosophically relevant. We conclude by arguing that experimental philosophy currently only focuses on a small subcategory of ethical thoughtexperiments and suggest a broadening of its research agenda. (shrink)
Preface: This volume originated in a conference on "The Place of ThoughtExperiments in Science and Philosophy" which was organized by us and held at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, April 18-20, 1986. The idea behind this conference was to encourage philosophers and scientists to talk to each other about the role of thoughtexperiments in their various disciplines. These papers were either written for the conference, or were written after (...) it by commentators and other participants.... We hope that this volume will be of use to other philosophers and scientists who are interested in thoughtexperiments, as well as inspire more work in this area.... (shrink)
The paper addresses the question of the nature and limits of philosophical thoughtexperiments. On the one hand, experimental philosophers are right to claim that we need much more laboratory work in order to have more reliable thoughtexperiments, but on the other hand a naturalism that is too radical is incapable of clarifying the peculiarity of thoughtexperiments in philosophy. Starting from a historico-critical reconstruction of Kant’s concept of the “experiments of pure (...) reason”, this paper outlines an account of thoughtexperiments in philosophy that tries to reconcile the thesis of a principled difference between scientific and philosophical TEs with the position of a methodological naturalism that does not admit any difference in kind between the methods of science and of philosophy. (shrink)
In 1969 Harry Frankfurt published his hugely influential paper 'Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility' in which he claimed to present a counterexample to the so-called 'Principle of Alternate Possibilities' ('a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise'). The success of Frankfurt-style cases as counterexamples to the Principle has been much debated since. I present an objection to these cases that, in questioning their conceptual cogency, undercuts many of those debates. Such cases (...) all require a counterfactual mechanism that could cause an agent to perform an action that he cannot avoid performing. I argue that, given our concept of what it is for someone to act, this requirement is inconsistent. Frankfurt-style alleged counterexamples are cases where an agent is morally responsible for an action he performs even though, the claim goes, he could not have avoided performing that action. However, it has recently been argued, e.g. by John Fischer, that a counterexample to the Principle could be a 'Fischer-style case', i.e. a case where the agent can either perform the action or do nothing else. I argue that, although Fischer-style cases do not share the conceptual flaw common to all Frankfurt-style cases, they also fail as counterexamples to the Principle. The paper finishes with a brief discussion of the significance of the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. (shrink)
This paper replies to objections that have been raised against my operational-Kantian account of thoughtexperiments by Fehige 2012 and 2013. Fehige also sketches an alternative Neo-Kantian account that utilizes Michael Friedman’s concept of a contingent and changeable a priori. To this I shall reply, first, that Fehige’s objections not only neglect some fundamental points I had made as regards the realizability of TEs, but also underestimate the principle of empiricism, which was rightly defended by Kant. Secondly, in (...) opposition to what he states, my account does not differ in a very essential way from the empiricist solutions either as regards the power of TEs to predict something new about empirical reality, or as regards the criteria for telling apart good from bad TEs. Thirdly, in the light of the Kantian definition of the a priori, Friedman’s corresponding notion is contrary both to the spirit and to the letter of Kant’s philosophy; moreover, from a theoretical point of view, a material a priori is theoretically untenable since, counter to Friedman’s own intentions, it leads to relativism. -/- . (shrink)
I explore the possibility that there are interesting and illuminating paralleIs to be drawn between issues central to the philosophical literature on scientific thoughtexperiments (TE’s) and issues central to the phlilosophical literature on standard fictional narratives. I examine three related questions: (a) To what extent are TE’s (like) standard fictional narratives? (b) Is the understanding of TE’s like the understanding of standard fictional narratives? (c) Most significantly, are there illuminating paralIeIs to be drawn between the ‘epistemological problem’ (...) of TE’s in science, and epistemological problems that attend some of the cognitive claims made for standard works of fiction? If so, are strategies used to defend the epistemic virtues of TE’s equally available to defend the cognitive claims of works of fiction? In addressing the third of these questions, I spell out the range of responses elicited by the epistemological problern of TE’s in science and suggest that at least one of this responses might bear upon the credibility of the cognitive claims of fiction. (shrink)
Descriptions of Gettier cases can be interpreted in ways that are incompatible with the standard judgment that they are cases of justified true belief without knowledge. Timothy Williamson claims that this problem cannot be avoided by adding further stipulations to the case descriptions. To the contrary, we argue that there is a fairly simple way to amend the Ford case, a standard description of a Gettier case, in such a manner that all deviant interpretations are ruled out. This removes one (...) major objection to interpreting our judgments about Gettier cases as strict conditionals. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments have been influential in philosophy at least since Plato, and they have contributed to science at least since Galileo. Some of this influence is appropriate, because thoughtexperiments can have legitimate roles in generating and clarifying hypotheses, as well as in identifying problems in competing hypotheses. I will argue, however, that philosophers have often overestimated the significance of thoughtexperiments by supposing that they can provide evidence that supports the acceptance of beliefs. (...) Accepting hypotheses merely on the basis of thinking about them constitutes a kind of epistemic hubris with many negative consequences, including the acquisition of false beliefs and the blocking of .. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments being central to contemporary philosophy and science, the following questions were asked in recent literature. What is their definition? Are they heuristic devices, arguments, paradoxes? Are they comparable to real experiments? Do intuition and conceivability intervene? Equally imaginative thoughtexperiments are found in ancient, medieval, and Renaissance texts. Paying attention to prime historical examples of thoughtexperiments, we show that historical perspectives help answer these general questions.
It is a commonplace that contemplation of an imaginary particular may have cognitive and motivational effects that differ from those evoked by an abstract description of an otherwise similar state of affairs. In his Treatise on Human Nature, Hume ( 1978) writes forcefully of this.
Thoughtexperiments are ubiquitous in science and especially prominent in domains in which experimental and observational evidence is scarce. One such domain is the causal analysis of singular events in history. A long‐standing tradition that goes back to Max Weber addresses the issue by means of ‘what‐if’ counterfactuals. In this paper I give a descriptive account of this widely used method and argue that historians following it examine difference makers rather than causes in the philosopher’s sense. While difference (...) making is neither necessary nor sufficient for causation, to establish difference makers is more consistent with the historians’ more ultimate purposes. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Erasmus University, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands; e‐mail: [email protected] (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments in science are merely picturesque argumentation. I support this view in various ways, including the claim that it follows from the fact that thoughtexperiments can err but can still be used reliably. The view is defended against alternatives proposed by my co-symposiasts.
Philosophical thought-experimentation has a long and influential history. In recent years, however, both the traditionally secure place of the method of thought experimentation in philosophy and its presumed epistemic credentials have been increasingly and repeatedly questioned. In the paper, I join the choir of the discontents. I present and discuss two types of evidence that in my opinion undermine our close-to-blind trust in moral thoughtexperiments and the intuitions that these elicit: the disappointing record of (...) class='Hi'>thought-experimentation in contemporary moral philosophy, and the more general considerations explaining why this failure is not accidental. The diagnosis is not optimistic. The past record of moral TEs is far from impressive. Most, if not all, moral TEs fail to corroborate their target moral hypotheses. Moral intuitions appear to be produced by moral heuristics which we have every reason to suspect will systematically misfi re in typical moral TEs. Rather than keep relying on moral TEs, we should therefore begin to explore other, more sound alternatives to thought-experimentation in moral philosophy. (shrink)
: An examination of two thoughtexperiments in contemporary physics reveals that the same thought experiment can be reanalyzed from the perspective of different and incompatible theories. This fact undermines those accounts of thoughtexperiments that claim their justificatory power comes from their ability to reveal the laws of nature. While thoughtexperiments do play a genuine evaluative role in science, they do so by testing the nonempirical virtues of a theory, such as (...) consistency and explanatory power. I conclude that, while their interpretation presupposes a whole set of background theories and putative laws, thoughtexperiments nonetheless can evolve and be retooled for different theories and ends. (shrink)
Against Norton's claim that all thoughtexperiments can be reduced to explicit arguments, I defend Brown's position that certain thoughtexperiments yield a priori knowledge. They do this, I argue, not by allowing us to perceive “Platonic universals” (Brown), even though they may contain non-propositional components that are epistemically indispensable, but by helping to identify certain tacit presuppositions or “natural interpretations” (Feyerabend's term) that lead to a contradiction when the phenomenon is described in terms of them, (...) and by suggesting a new natural interpretation in terms of which the phenomenon can be redescribed free of contradiction. (shrink)
Can merely thinking about an imaginary situation provide evidence for how the world actually is--or how it ought to be? In this lively book, Roy A. Sorensen addresses this question with an analysis of a wide variety of thoughtexperiments ranging from aesthetics to zoology. Presenting the first general theory of thought experiment, he sets it within an evolutionary framework and integrates recent advances in experimental psychology and the history of science, with special emphasis on Ernst Mach (...) and Thomas Kuhn. Sorensen explores what thoughtexperiments are, how they work, and what their virtues and vices are. In his view, philosophy differs from science in degree, but not in kind. For this reason, he claims, it is possible to understand philosophical thoughtexperiments by concentrating on their resemblance to scientific relatives. Sorensen assesses the hazards of thoughtexperiments and grants that there are interesting ways in which the method leads us astray, but attacks most scepticism about thoughtexperiments as arbitrary. He maintains that they should be used--as they generally are--as part of a diversified portfolio of techniques, creating a network of cross-checks that make for impressive reliability. (shrink)
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 thoughtexperiments. 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 thoughtexperiments carry weight in the former but not the latter disciplines. (shrink)
What is the nature of the evidence provided by thoughtexperiments in philosophy? For instance, what evidence is provided by the Gettier thought experiment against the JTB theory of knowledge? According to one view, it provides as evidence only a certain psychological proposition, e.g. that it seems to one that the subject in the Gettier case lacks knowledge. On an alternative, nonpsychological view, the Gettier thought experiment provides as evidence the nonpsychological proposition that the subject in (...) the Gettier case lacks knowledge (e.g., Williamson 2007). Given the centrality of thoughtexperiments to philosophical enquiry, the correct account of thought experiment evidence is important for understanding the nature of philosophical methodology. Further, Williamson argues that a misguided adherence to the psychological view of thought experiment evidence encourages scepticism about philosophy since it opens a gap between our evidence and the nonpsychological subject matter of philosophy. The main aim of this paper is to defend the psychological view against recent objections. In particular, I argue that even if thought experiment evidence is psychological, it can still provide justification for non-psychological claims which are the subject matter of philosophy. (shrink)
We present a criterion for the use of thoughtexperiments as a guide to possibilia that bear on important arguments in philosophy of religion. We propose that the more successful thoughtexperiments are closer to the world in terms of phenomenological realism and the values they are intended to track. This proposal is filled out by comparing thoughtexperiments of life after death by Peter van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman with an idealist thought (...) experiment. In terms of realism and values we contrast an exemplary thought experiment by Iris Murdoch with one we find problematic by William Irwin. (shrink)
Both thoughtexperiments and simulation experiments apparently belong to the family of experiments, though they are somewhat special members because they work without intervention into the natural world. Instead they explore hypothetical worlds. For this reason many have wondered whether referring to them as “experiments” is justified at all. While most authors are concerned with only one type of “imagined” experiment – either simulation or thought experiment – the present chapter hopes to gain new (...) insight by considering what the two types of experiment share, and what they do not. A close look reveals at least one fundamental methodological difference between thought and simulation experiments: while thoughtexperiments are a cognitive process that employs intuition, simulation experiments rest on automated iterations of formal algorithms. It will be argued that this difference has important epistemological ramifications. (shrink)
The paper argues that the practice of thought experintenting enables scientists to follow through the implications of a way of representing nature by simulating an exemplary or representative situation that is feasible within that representation. What distinguishes thought experimenting from logical argument and other forms of propositional reasoning is that reasoning by means of a thought experiment involves constructing and simulating a mental model of a representative situation. Although thought experimenting is a creative part of scientific (...) practice, it is a highly refined extension of a mundane form of reasoning. It is not a mystery why scientific thoughtexperiments are a reliable source of empirical insights. Thought experimenting uses and manipulates representations that derive from real-world experiences and our conceptualizations of them. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments are profitably compared to compasses. A compass is a simple but useful device for determining direction. Nevertheless, it systematically errs in the presence of magnets ...it becomes unreliable near the North Pole, in mine shafts, when vibrated, in the presence of metal ...experts will wish to use the compass as one element in a wider portfolio of navigational techniques. Analogously, thoughtexperiments are simple but useful devices for determining the status of propositions. Sadly, they (...) systematically err under certain conditions and so are best used with sensitivity to their foibles and limited scope (Sorensen, 1992, pp. 288–289). (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments are the philosopher's stock-in-trade. Much recent disparagement hasn't diminished their use or apparent essentiality to philosophical investigation. The simple reason is that we have no alternative way to support or test modal claims, and while some may advocate abandoning such claims, to most of us, that sounds tantamount to just abandoning philosophy. So that leaves us looking for a better understanding of thoughtexperiments and how they work; fortunately, this has been receiving more explicit (...) philosophical attention. The present, well-written book is one such foray into this area. (shrink)
Brown (The laboratory of the mind. Thoughtexperiments in the natural science, 1991a , 1991b ; Contemporary debates in philosophy of science, 2004 ; Thoughtexperiments, 2008 ) argues that thoughtexperiments (TE) in science cannot be arguments and cannot even be represented by arguments. He rest his case on examples of TEs which proceed through a contradiction to reach a positive resolution (Brown calls such TEs “platonic”). This, supposedly, makes it impossible to represent (...) them as arguments for logical reasons: there is no logic that can adequately model such phenomena. (Brown further argues that this being the case, “platonic” TEs provide us with irreducible insight into the abstract realm of laws of nature). I argue against this approach by describing how “platonic” TEs can be modeled within the logical framework of adaptive proofs for prioritized consequence operations. To show how this mundane apparatus works, I use it to reconstruct one of the key examples used by Brown, Galileo’s TE involving falling bodies. (shrink)
All three authors range themselves against John Norton's deductive analysis of thoughtexperiments. Brown's insight, Nersessian's mental modelling, and Gooding's embodiment, arise, in each case, from a major all-purpose philosophical theory. None reaches down to the specific level of thoughtexperiments, which are small, rare, and precious. I urge attention to Wittgenstein's remark that "the experimental character disappears when one looks at the process as a memorable picture." Thoughtexperiments are not experiments. They (...) are static. They become fixed, more like jokes or optical illusions. Unlike real experiments, they have no life of their own. (shrink)