Otto Neurath's Scientific Utopianism Revisited - A Refined Model for Utopias in Thought Experiments

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie (2):1-26 (2023)
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Otto Neurath’s empiricist methodology of economics and his contributions to politi- cal economy have gained increasing attention in recent years. We connect this research with contemporary debates regarding the epistemological status of thought experiments by reconstructing Neurath’s utopias as linchpins of thought experiments. In our three reconstructed examples of different uses of utopias/dystopias in thought experiments we employ a reformulation of Häggqvist’s model for thought experiments and we argue that: (1) Our reformulation of Häggqvist’s model more adequately complies with many uses of thought experiments, especially with the open-ended discussions of utopias and dys- topias in thought experiments. (2) As a strict logical empiricist, Neurath is committed to a strictly empiricist account of thought experiments. John Norton’s empiricist argument view can indeed account for the justifications of empirical beliefs and genuine discoveries targeted by scientific utopianism in three distinct (yet connected) ways, all of which Neur- ath already contemplated: (2.I) Dealing with utopias and thought experiments on a regular basis increases creativity and inventiveness. (2.II) Particular ways of presenting knowl- edge facilitate scientific discovery and social progress. (2.III) The use of utopias in thought experiments can prompt conceptual change and allow access to new phenomena. We con- clude by highlighting that, even though thought experiments support a positive attitude for exploring new social possibilities, Neurath points out that active decisions are unavoidable. The exploration of alternatives and the awareness of a need for decisions in policy discus- sion avert a technocratic outlook in social science.

Author Profiles

Alexander Linsbichler
Johannes Kepler University of Linz
Ivan Ferreira da Cunha
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina


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