An explorative contribution to the ongoing discussion of thoughtexperiments. While endorsing the majority view that skepticism about thoughtexperiments is not well justified, in what follows we attempt to show that there is a kind of “bodiliness” missing from current accounts of thoughtexperiments. That is, we suggest a phenomenological addition to the literature. First, we contextualize our claim that the importance of the body in thoughtexperiments has been widely underestimated. (...) Then we discuss David Gooding's work, which contains the only explicit recognition of the importance of the body to understanding thoughtexperiments. Finally, we introduce a phenomenological perspective of the body, which will give us the opportunity to sketch the power and promise of a phenomenological approach to thoughtexperiments. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments have a mysterious way of informing us about the world, apparently without examining it, yet with a great degree of certainty. It is tempting to try to explain this capacity by making use of the idea that in thoughtexperiments, the mind somehow simulates the processes about which it reaches conclusions. Here, I test this idea. I argue that when they predict the outcomes of hypothetical physical situations, thoughtexperiments cannot simulate physical (...) processes. They use mental models, which should not be confused with process-driven simulations. A convincing case can be made that thoughtexperiments about hypothetical mental processes are mental simulations. Concerning moral thoughtexperiments, I argue that construing them as simulations of mental processes favours certain moral theories over others. The scope of mental simulation in thoughtexperiments is primarily limited by the constraint of relevant similarity on source and target processes: on one hand, this constraint disqualifies thought from simulating external natural processes; on the other hand, it is a source of epistemic bias in moral thoughtexperiments. In view of these results, I conclude that thoughtexperiments and mental simulations cannot be assimilated as means of acquiring knowledge. (shrink)
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)
‘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)
A characteristic of contemporary analytic philosophy is its ample use of thoughtexperiments. We formulate two features that can lead one to suspect that a given thought experiment is a poor one. Although these features are especially in evidence within the philosophy of mind, they can, surprisingly enough, also be discerned in some celebrated scientific thoughtexperiments. Yet in the latter case the consequences appear to be less disastrous. We conclude that the use of (...) class='Hi'>thoughtexperiments is more successful in science than in philosophy. (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)
This paper presents a critical analysis of Tamar Szabó Gendler’s view of thoughtexperiments, with the aim of developing further a constructivist epistemology of thoughtexperiments in science. While the execution of a thought experiment cannot be reduced to standard forms of inductive and deductive inference, in the process of working though a thought experiment, a logical argument does emerge and take shape. Taking Gendler’s work as a point of departure, I argue that performing (...) a thought experiment involves a process of self-interrogation, in which we are compelled to reflect on our pre-existing knowledge of the world. In doing so, we are forced to make judgments about what assumptions we see as relevant and how they apply to an imaginary scenario. This brings to light the extent to which certain forms of skill, beyond the ability to make valid logical inferences, are necessary to execute a thought experiment well. (shrink)
Joshua Glasgow argues against the existence of races. His experimental philosophy asks subjects questions involving racial categorization to discover the ordinary concept of race at work in their judgments. The results show conflicting information about the concept of race, and Glasgow concludes that the ordinary concept of race is inconsistent. I conclude, rather, that Glasgow’s results fit perfectly fine with a social-kind view of races as real social entities. He also presents thoughtexperiments to show that social-kind views (...) give the wrong results, but intuitions might differ on which results are the wrong ones, and social-kind views can resist the implications he derives from these cases. Widespread false beliefs about a concept or category need not undermine anything’s existence, and a sufficiently context-sensitive approach to races will allow for competing criteria for race-membership in different contexts without contradictory criteria in any one context. Glasgow’s arguments are therefore unsuccessful. (shrink)
Building on a previously published contextualization of Marco Buzzoni’s Neo- Kantian account of scientific thought-experiments, this paper examines the explanatory power of this account. It is argued that Buzzoni’s account suffers from a number of shortcomings. Einstein’s clock-in-the-box thought experiment facilitates the demonstration of these deficits. In the light of both the identified inadequacies of Buzzoni’s account and the long-standing history of Kantian approaches to thoughtexperiments, this paper finally sketches an alternative Neo-Kantian account. This (...) alternative utilizes Michael Friedman’s reading of Kant’s a priori within a Kuhnian account of thoughtexperiments along the lines of conceptual constructivism as anticipated by Georg Lichtenberg and further developed recently by Tamar Gendler. (shrink)
This paper motivates, explains, and defends a new account of the content of thoughtexperiments. I begin by briefly surveying and critiquing three influential accounts of thoughtexperiments: James Robert Brown’s Platonist account, John Norton’s deflationist account that treats them as picturesque arguments, and a cluster of views that I group together as mental model accounts. I use this analysis to motivate a set of six desiderata for a new approach. I propose that we treat (...) class='Hi'>thoughtexperiments primarily as aesthetic objects, specifically fictions, and then use this analysis to characterize their content and ultimately assess their epistemic success. Taking my starting point from Kendall Walton’s account of representation (Mimesis as make-believe, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1990), I argue that the best way to understand the content of thoughtexperiments is to treat them as props for imagining fictional worlds. Ultimately, I maintain that, in terms of their form and content, thoughtexperiments share more with literary fictions and pictorial representations than with either argumentation or observations of the Platonic realm. Moreover, while they inspire imaginings, thoughtexperiments themselves are not mental kinds. My approach redirects attention towards what fixes the content of any given thought experiment and scrutinizes the assumptions, cognitive capacities and conventions that generate them. This view helps to explain what seems plausible about Brown’s, Norton’s, and the mental modelers’ views. (shrink)
An overview is provided of how the concept of the thought experiment has developed and changed for the natural sciences in the course of the 20th century. First, we discuss the existing definitions of the term 'thought experiment' and the origin of the thought experimentation method, identifying it in Greek Presocratics epoch. Second, only in the end of the 19th century showed up the first systematic enquiry on thoughtexperiments by Ernst Mach's work. After the (...) Mach's work, a negative attitude towards thoughtexperiments came in the beginning of the 20th century, which went on until the Thomas Kuhn's and Karl Popper's work on thoughtexperiments. Only from the mid-1980s did thoughtexperiments begin to be considered relevant to scientific enterprise. Finally, we show the existing empirical and 'functional' theories which have developed about the nature and purpose of thoughtexperiments. (shrink)
Martha Nussbaum has argued in support of the view (supposedly that of Aristotle) that we can, through thought-experiments involving personal identity, find an objective foundation for moral thought without having to appeal to any authority independent of morality. I compare the thought-experiment from Plato’s Philebus that she presents as an example to other thought-experiments involving identity in the literature and argue that this reveals a tension between the sources of authority which Nussbaum invokes for (...) her thought-experiment. I also argue that each of her sources of authority presents further difficulties for her project. Finally, I argue that it is not clear that her thought-experiment is one that actually involves identity in any crucial way. As a result, the case she offers does not offer any satisfactory support for her view on the relation between identity, morality and thought-experiments, but we do gain some insights into what that relation really is along the way. (shrink)
Paul Ricoeur and Marya Schechtman express grave doubts about the acceptability and informativeness of the thought-experiments employed by analytic philosophers (notably Derek Parfit) in the debate about personal identity, and for what appear to be related reasons. I consider their reasoning and argue that their reasons fail to justify their doubts. I go on to argue that, from this discussion of possible problems concerning select thought-experiments, something positive can be learned about personal identity.
Recently Timothy Williamson (2007) has argued that characterizations of the standard (i.e. intuition-based) philosophical practice of philosophical analysis are misguided because of the erroneous manner in which this practice has been understood. In doing so he implies that experimental critiques of the reliability of intuition are based on this misunderstanding of philosophical methodology and so have little or no bearing on actual philosophical practice or results. His main point is that the orthodox understanding of philosophical methodology is incorrect in that (...) it treats philosophical thoughtexperiments in such a way that they can be “filled in” in various ways that undermines their use as counter-examples and that intuition plays no substantial role in philosophical practice when we properly understand that methodology as a result of the possibility of such filling in. In this paper Williamson’s claim that philosophical thoughtexperiments cases can be legitimately filled in this way will be challenged and it will be shown that the experimental critique of the intuition-based methods involved a serious issue. (shrink)
I claim that one way thoughtexperiments contribute to scientific progress is by increasing scientific understanding. Understanding does not have a currently accepted characterization in the philosophical literature, but I argue that we already have ways to test for it. For instance, current pedagogical practice often requires that students demonstrate being in either or both of the following two states: 1) Having grasped the meaning of some relevant theory, concept, law or model, 2) Being able to apply that (...) theory, concept, law or model fruitfully to new instances. Three thoughtexperiments are presented which have been important historically in helping us pass these tests, and two others that cause us to fail. Then I use this operationalization of understanding to clarify the relationships between scientific thoughtexperiments, the understanding they produce, and the progress they enable. I conclude that while no specific instance of understanding (thus conceived) is necessary for scientific progress, understanding in general is. (shrink)
John D. Norton defends an empiricist epistemology of thoughtexperiments, the central thesis of which is that thoughtexperiments are nothing more than arguments. Philosophers have attempted to provide counterexamples to this claim, but they haven’t convinced Norton. I will point out a more fundamental reason for reformulation that criticizes Norton’s claim that a thought experiment is a good one when its underlying logical form possesses certain desirable properties. I argue that by Norton’s empiricist standards, (...) no thought experiment is ever justified in any deep sense due to the properties of its logical form. Instead, empiricists should consider again the merits of evaluating thoughtexperiments more like laboratory experiments, and less like arguments. (shrink)
This essay proposes an alternative way of studying video games: as thoughtexperiments akin to the narrative thoughtexperiments that are frequently used in philosophy. This perspective incorporates insights from the narratological and ludological perspectives in game studies and highlights the philosophical significance of games. Video game thoughtexperiments are similar to narrative thoughtexperiments in many respects and can perform the same functions. They also have distinctive advantages over narrative thought (...)experiments, as they situate counterfactuals in more complex, developed contexts and present them to players who are participants in game worlds, rather than simply observers. (shrink)
Like works of literature, thoughtexperiments present fictional narratives that prompt reflection in their readers. Because of these and other similarities, a number of philosophers have argued for a strong analogy between works of literary fiction and thoughtexperiments, some going so far as to say that works of literary fiction are a species of thought experiment. These arguments are often used in defending a cognitivist position with regard to literature: thoughtexperiments produce (...) knowledge, so works of literary fiction can too. This article concedes that works of literary fiction can be put to use in thoughtexperiments, but not in a way that is helpful to the cognitivist. In particular, it draws three disanalogies in the ways we engage critically with thoughtexperiments and with literary fictions. First, we use thoughtexperiments to make arguments; second, we read thoughtexperiments in strongly allegorical terms; and third, the terms of criticism we apply to thoughtexperiments and to works of literature differ. Although these disanalogies present problems for the cognitivist position, they also give us a sharper picture of the distinctive educative potential of works of literary fiction. (shrink)
Roy Sorensen advances an evolutionary explanation of our capacity for thoughtexperiments which doubles as a naturalized epistemological justification. I argue Sorensens explanation fails to satisfy key elements of environmental-selectionist explanations and so fails to carry epistemic force. I then argue that even if Sorensen succeeds in showing the adaptive utility of our capacity, he still fails to establish its reliability and hence epistemic utility. I conclude Sorensens account comes to little more than a just-so story.
Contemporary economists deem virtually every piece of reasoning and argumentation in economics a model, forgetting that there may well be other conceptual tools at hand. This article demonstrates that David Hume used thoughtexperiments to make some remarkable breakthroughs in monetary economics, and that this resolves a longstanding debate about an apparent inconsistency in Hume, between the neutrality and non-neutrality of money. In the actual world, money is never neutral for Hume; only in thoughtexperiments does (...) a sudden growth in the money stock result in an identical and hence neutral increase in the price level. Thoughtexperiments isolate tendencies but do not lend themselves to direct confirmation. Moreover, Hume’s dislike for the French model builders, Melon and Quesnay, captures an important juncture in mid eighteenth-century economic discourse regarding the warranted level of abstraction and of idealization. (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)
Several major breakthroughs in the history of physics have been prompted not by new empirical data but by thoughtexperiments. James Robert Brown and John Norton have developed accounts of how thoughtexperiments can yield such advances. Brown argues that knowledge gained via thoughtexperiments demands a Platonic explanation; thoughtexperiments for Brown are a window into the Platonic realm of the laws of nature. Norton argues that thoughtexperiments are (...) just cleverly disguised inductive or deductive arguments, so no new account of their epistemology is needed. In this paper, I argue that although we do not need to invoke any Platonic insight to explain thought experimentation, Norton’s eliminativist account fails to capture the unique epistemological importance of thoughtexperiments qua thoughtexperiments. I then present my own account, according to which thoughtexperiments are a particular type of inductive inference that is uniquely suited to generate new breakthroughs. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments play an important cognitive role in many fields of inquiry, especially in physics and philosophy. Do they also matter in revealed theology? In addressing this question, I will argue first why it is important to do so, then elaborate on the characteristic features of such thoughtexperiments in revealed theology, and finally discuss two instances of thought experimenting in Augustine.
Marco Buzzoni has presented a Kantian account of thoughtexperiments in science as a serious rival to the current empiricist and Platonic accounts. This paper takes the first steps of a comprehensive assessment of this account in order to further the more general discussion of the feasibility of a Kantian theory of scientific thoughtexperiments. Such a discussion is overdue. To this effect the broader question is addressed as to what motivates a Kantian approach. Buzzoni's account (...) and the assessment developed in this paper are warranted by the fact that the history of philosophical inquiry into thoughtexperiments is deeply interwoven with Kant's philosophy. This history will be depicted here for the first time in more comprehensive terms to contextualize Buzzoni's account in historical and systematic perspective. (shrink)
The scales across which physical properties exist are vast and subtle in their effects on particular systems placed locally on such scales. For example, human experiential access is restricted only to partial segments of the mass density, size, and temperature scales of the universe. I argue that philosophers must learn to appreciate better the effects of physical scales. Specifically, thoughtexperiments in philosophy should be more sensitive to physical scale effects, because the conclusion of a thought experiment (...) may be undermined by unintentionally ignored scale effects, and the changes required to obtain the foreground state of affairs in a thought experiment might require unacknowledged scale-spanning changes to the contextual background. I discuss four philosophical thoughtexperiments: Putnam's Twin Earth and Brain in a Vat, Searle's Chinese Room, and Chalmers's Zombies Without Qualia. I close by briefly defending the greater interest and importance of physical possibility over logical possibility. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments are a means of imaginative reasoning that lie at the heart of philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to the modern era. They also play central roles in fields from physics to politics. The Routledge Companion to ThoughtExperiments is a guide and reference source to this multi-faceted subject. Comprising over thirty chapters by a team of international contributors, the Companion covers the following important areas: -/- The history of thoughtexperiments, from antiquity up (...) to the trolley problem and quantum non-locality. -/- Thoughtexperiments in the humanities, arts and sciences: including ethics, physics, theology, biology, mathematics, economics and politics. -/- Theories about the nature of thoughtexperiments. -/- New discussions concerning the impact of experimental philosophy, cross-cultural comparison studies, metaphilosophy, computer simulations, idealization, dialectics, cognitive science, the artistic nature of thoughtexperiments, and metaphysical issues. -/- A major feature of the Companion is its range: going backwards through history, and sideways across disciplines. It also engages with philosophical perspectives from empiricism, rationalism, naturalism, and neo-Kantianism to phenomenology. This makes the Routledge Companion to ThoughtExperiments more than just a useful collection of thoughtexperiments. It is also a complete introduction to their study, as well as a source of cutting-edge ideas from scholars working on the topic. The Companion will be valuable for anyone studying the methods of philosophy or any discipline that employs thoughtexperiments, as well as anyone interested in the power and limits of the mind. (shrink)
A is for Alice and astronomers arguing about acceleration -- B is for Bernard's body-exchange machine -- C is for the Catholic cannibal -- D is for Maxwell's demon -- E is for evolution (and an embarrassing problem with it) -- F is for the forms lost forever to the prisoners of the cave -- G is for Galileo's gravitational balls -- H is for Hume's shades -- I is for the identity of indiscernibles -- J is for Henri Poincaré (...) and alternative geometries -- K is for the Kritik and Kant's kind of thoughtexperiments -- L is for Lucretius' spear -- M is for Mach's motionless chain -- N is for Newton's bucket -- O is for Olbers' paradox -- P is for Parfit's person -- Q is for the questions raised by thoughtexperiments quotidiennes -- R is for the rule-ruled room -- S is for Salvatius' ship, sailing along its own space-time line -- T is for the time-travelling twins -- U is for the universe, and Einstein's attempts to understand it -- V is for the vexed case of the violinist -- W is for Wittgenstein's beetle -- X is for xenophanes and thinking by examples -- Y is for counterfactuals and a backwards approach to history -- Z is for Zeno and the mysteries of infinity. (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.
There has been a movement recently to bring to bear on the conduct of philosophical thoughtexperiments 1 the empirical techniques of the social sciences, that is, to treat their conduct as in the nature of an anthropological investigation into the application conditions of the concepts of a group of subjects. This is to take a third person, in contrast to the traditional ﬁrst person, approach to conceptual analysis. This has taken the form of conducting surveys about scenarios (...) used in thoughtexperiments.2 It has been called “experimental philosophy” by its practitioners and has been applied across a range of ﬁelds: the philosophy of language, the philosophy of action, the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.3 The results of these surveys have been used to support conclusions about the application conditions of particular concepts of interest in philosophy. They have also been used to support skeptical claims about the traditional approach to conceptual analysis. The. (shrink)
The paper places the work of G. Gaus into the tradition of political thought experimenting. In particular, his strategy of modeling moral decision by the heuristic device of idealized Members of the Public is presented as an iterated thought experiment, which stands in marked contrast with more traditional devices like the veil of ignorance. The consequences are drawn, and issues of utopianism and realism briefly discussed.
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)
Erratum to: Philos Stud DOI 10.1007/s11098-013-0226-3Dear Reader, due to production systems the following changes could not be made to this article:In the paragraph immediately preceding the case description (ford-iii), the sentenceHere we explicitly state that Smith’s inference is based only on his belief that Jones owns a Ford, and that this logical inference provides Smith’s only justification for believing that someone in his office owns a Ford (to make things fully precise, we also add a time index).should be replaced withHere (...) we explicitly state that Smith’s inference is based only on his belief that Jones owns a Ford (plus the justified background belief that Jones is in his office), and that this logical inference provides Smith’s only justification for believing that someone in his office owns a Ford (to make things fully precise, we also add a time index).The added part is highlighted in boldface.And within the case description (ford-iii), the sentenceFrom this belief alone. (shrink)
Roux begins by exploring the texts in which the origins of the scientific notion of thoughtexperiments are usually said to be found. Her general claim is simple: the emergence of the notion of thoughtexperiments relies on a succession of misunderstandings and omissions. She then examines, in a more systematic perspective, the three characteristics of the broad category of thoughtexperiments nowadays in circulation: thoughtexperiments are counterfactual, they involve a concrete (...) scenario and they have a well-delimited cognitive intention. Her aim in exploring these characteristics is twofold. Firstly, it is to show that each of these characteristics, considered individually, may be taken in a more or less strict sense, and consequently to explain the proliferation of thoughtexperiments. Secondly, it is to suggest that the recent debates on thoughtexperiments might have arisen because these three characteristics are not easily conciliated when they are considered together. Finally, in a third and last section, the nine essays of the introduced book are presented. (shrink)
In epistemology, fake-barn thoughtexperiments are often taken to be intuitively clear cases in which a justified true belief does not qualify as knowledge. We report a study designed to determine whether non-philosophers share this intuition. The data suggest that while participants are less inclined to attribute knowledge in fake-barn cases than in unproblematic cases of knowledge, they nonetheless do attribute knowledge to protagonists in fake-barn cases. Moreover, the intuition that fake-barn cases do count as knowledge is negatively (...) correlated with age; older participants are less likely than younger participants to attribute knowledge in fake-barn cases. We also found that increasing the number of defeaters (fakes) does not decrease the inclination to attribute knowledge. (shrink)
This book explores the scope and limits of the concept of personDS a vexed question in contemporary philosophy. The author begins by questioning the methodology of thought-experimentation, arguing that it engenders inconclusive and unconvincing results, and that truth is stranger than fiction. She then examines an assortment of real-life conditions, including infancy, insanity andx dementia, dissociated states, and split brains. The popular faith in continuity of consciousness, and the unity of the person is subjected to sustained criticism. The author (...) concludes with a look at different views of the person found in Homer, Aristotle, the post-Cartesians, and contemporary cognitive science. (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)
I begin with an explication of "thought experiment". I then clarify the role that intuitions play in thoughtexperiments by addressing two important issues: (1) the informativeness of thoughtexperiments and (2) the legitimacy of the method of thoughtexperiments in philosophy and the natural sciences. I defend a naturalistic account of intuitions that provides a plausible explanation of the informativeness of thoughtexperiments, which, in turn, allows thoughtexperiments (...) to be reconstructed as arguments. I also specify criteria for distinguishing bad "intuition pumps" from legitimate thoughtexperiments. These criteria help us to avoid being seduced by the dangerous suggestive power of misleading intuitions. (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.
Thoughtexperiments have been used by philosophers for centuries, especially in the study of personal identity where they appear to have been used extensively and indiscriminately. Despite their prevalence, the use of thoughtexperiments in this area of philosophy has been criticized in recent times. Bernard Williams criticizes the conclusions that are drawn from some experiments, and retells one of these experiments from a different perspective, a retelling which leads to a seemingly opposing result. (...) Wilkes criticizes the method of thought experimentation itself, suggesting that the results drawn from the experiments are tainted by a faulty method. This paper examines both these types of objection, and concludes that neither can be sustained. (shrink)
Thoughtexperiments de facto play many different roles in biology: economical, ethical, technical and so forth. This paper, however, is interested in whether there are any distinctive features of biological TEs as such. The question may be settled in the affirmative because TEs in biology have a function that is intimately connected with the epistemological and methodological status of biology. Peculiar to TEs in biology is the fact that the reflexive, typically human concept of finality may be profitably (...) employed to discover mechanical-experimental causal relations in all living beings—with the obvious caveat that we do not hypostatise and interpret this concept as an ontological quality, since this would land one in an implicitly animistic, pre-Galilean view of nature. From a methodical point of view, the concept of finality is an essential assumption as well as a powerful heuristic tool in the practice of biology, that is, in the investigation of living beings in an intersubjectively testable and reproducible way. (shrink)
Philosophers have traditionally used thought-experiments in their endeavours to find a satisfactory account of the self and personal identity. Yet there are considerations from empirical psychology as well as related ones from philosophy itself that appear to completely undermine the method of thought-experiment. This paper focuses on both sets of considerations and attempts a defence of the method.
Epistemological optimists about thoughtexperiments hold that imagination could be under certain conditions source of epistemic justification. Their claim is usually based on one of three dominant conceptions about epistemic value of thoughtexperiments. Apriorism states that imagination may serve as unique a priori source of new synthetic knowledge about the actual world. I argue against this view and show that apriorism is either too weak, or too strong or too vague. Psychologism is viable, yet not (...) fully clear conception about new meta-knowledge obtained by thought experimenting. I compare some interpretations of this position and present reasons for favorizing one of them. Conceptualism considers thoughtexperiments as instruments for cleaning our conceptual systems. I argue that this position is in fact not about epistemic value of thoughtexperiments, but about one specific usage of experimental result. (shrink)