Judgements about Thought Experiments

Mind 127 (505):35-67 (2018)
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Thought experiments invite us to evaluate philosophical theses by making judgements about hypothetical cases. When the judgements and the theses conflict, it is often the latter that are rejected. But what is the nature of the judgements such that they are able to play this role? I answer this question by arguing that typical judgements about thought experiments are in fact judgements of normal counterfactual sufficiency. I begin by focusing on Anna-Sara Malmgren’s defence of the claim that typical judgements about thought experiments are mere possibility judgements. This view is shown to fail for two closely related reasons: it cannot account for the incorrectness of certain misjudgements, and it cannot account for the inconsistency of certain pairs of conflicting judgements. This prompts a reconsideration of Timothy Williamson’s alternative proposal, according to which typical judgements about thought experiments are counterfactual in nature. I show that taking such judgements to concern what would normally hold in instances of the relevant hypothetical scenarios avoids the objections that have been pressed against this kind of view. I then consider some other potential objections, but argue that they provide no grounds for doubt.

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Alexander Geddes
Oxford University


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