Philosophy of Science: A User's Guide

MIT Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Thought experiments play a role in science and in some central parts of contemporary philosophy. They used to play a larger role in philosophy of science, but have been largely abandoned as part of the field’s “practice turn”. This chapter discusses possible roles for thought experimentation within a practice-oriented philosophy of science. Some of these roles are uncontroversial, such as exemplification and aiding discovery. A more controversial role is the reliance on thought experiments to justify philosophical claims. It is proposed that if we adopt an underlying empiricist view of concepts, then thought experiments can be seen as affording us contact with scientific practice, despite their seemingly a priori character. The advantages and drawbacks of thought experiments are discussed via comparison with case studies, on the one, and simulations on the other hand. The chapter closes with some remarks on how to combine thought experiments with other methods.

Author Profiles

Adrian Currie
Cambridge University
Sophie Veigl
University of Vienna

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