The Wonder of Armchair Inquiry
Sorensen (Roy)
Source: Thought Experiments, Roy A. Sorensen, 1992, Chapter 4
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract1

  1. Part of this chapter is deflationary; I trace a portion of our wonder about a priori enlightenment to modal2 fallacies.
  2. The positive part addresses curiosity about the mechanisms underlying armchair inquiry. Philosophers and psychologists have been influenced by several vague models of non-observational enlightenment. Mach said that thought experiments3 draw from a storehouse of unarticulated experience. This answer to the question of how it can be fruitful to sit and think is an empiricist version of Plato's doctrine of recollection, which pictures knowers as rememberers.
  3. In the 1960s, ordinary language philosophers defended their appeals to "what we would say" with a linguistic descendent of Plato's doctrine: knowledge of how to speak is transformed into knowledge that the rules for the term are such-and-such.
  4. The homuncular model, made respectable by the rise of cognitive psychology in the 1970s, pictures people as composed of subsystems ("little people") that act within the larger system much as personnel behave within a firm. The armchair investigator shifts information from one subsystem to another, so that facts familiar to one part are news to another part.
  5. This intrapersonal communication, pooling, and delegation of questions produces a better-informed person even though no fresh data has been gathered.
  6. A fourth model focuses on how information can be made more informative by rearranging it in ways that facilitate its storage, retrieval, and deployment in inference.

  1. The Pseudoanomaly – 76
    … A. Modal4 Gap Illusions – 77
    … B. How Thought Experiments5 Yield Modal6 Conclusions – 79
  2. Positive Theories of Armchair Inquiry – 88
    … A. The Recollection Model – 88
    … B. The Transformation Model – 92
    … C. The Homuncular Model – 95
    … D. The Rearrangement Model – 99
  3. The Cleansing Model – 104
    … A. How Thought Experiment7 Corrects Imbalances – 104
    … B. Theoretical and Practical Irrationality – 106
  4. An Eclectic View of the Mechanics of Thought Experiment8 – 109


Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 17 (S2: Sm+)".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Taken from "Sorensen (Roy) - Thought Experiments: Introduction".

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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