Thought Experiments
Brown (James Robert) & Fehige (Yiftach)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1996-2014
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Extract)

  1. The primary philosophical challenge of thought experiments1 is simple: How can we learn about reality (if we can at all), just by thinking? More precisely, are there thought experiments2 that enable us to acquire new knowledge about the intended realm of investigation without new empirical data? If so, where does the new information come from if not from contact with the realm of investigation under consideration? Finally, how can we distinguish good from bad instances of thought experiments3?
  2. These questions seem urgent with respect to scientific thought experiments4, because most philosophers and historians of science
      “recognize them as an occasionally potent tool for increasing our understanding of nature. […] Historically their role is very close to the double one played by actual laboratory experiments and observations. First, thought experiments5 can disclose nature's failure to conform to a previously held set of expectations. Second, they can suggest particular ways in which both expectation and theory must henceforth be revised.”
      "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Essential Tension", 1977, p. 241 and 261
  3. The questions are urgent regarding philosophical thought experiments6, because they play an important role in philosophical discourse. Philosophy without thought experiments7 seems almost hopeless.

  1. Common Features of Thought Experiments8
  2. Types of Thought Experiments9: A Taxonomy
  3. The Debate Over Thought Experiments10
    • 3.1 Some Historical Background
    • 3.2 Systematic Exploration
  4. Recent Developments
  5. Bibliography


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  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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