The material theory of induction and the epistemology of thought experiments

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 83:17-27 (2020)
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Abstract

John D. Norton is responsible for a number of influential views in contemporary philosophy of science. This paper will discuss two of them. The material theory of induction claims that inductive arguments are ultimately justified by their material features, not their formal features. Thus, while a deductive argument can be valid irrespective of the content of the propositions that make up the argument, an inductive argument about, say, apples, will be justified (or not) depending on facts about apples. The argument view of thought experiments claims that thought experiments are arguments, and that they function epistemically however arguments do. These two views have generated a great deal of discussion, although there hasn’t been much written about their combination. I argue that despite some interesting harmonies, there is a serious tension between them. I consider several options for easing this tension, before suggesting a set of changes to the argument view that I take to be consistent with Norton’s fundamental philosophical commitments, and which retain what seems intuitively correct about the argument view. These changes require that we move away from a unitary epistemology of thought experiments and towards a more pluralist position.

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Michael T. Stuart
National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University

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