Publication 4564

Camilleri K. (2014) Toward a constructivist epistemology of thought experiments in science. Synthese 191(8): 1697–1716. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4564
This paper presents a critical analysis of Tamar Szabó Gendler’s view of thought experiments, with the aim of developing further a constructivist epistemology of thought experiments in science. While the execution of a thought experiment cannot be reduced to standard forms of inductive and deductive inference, in the process of working though a thought experiment, a logical argument does emerge and take shape. Taking Gendler’s work as a point of departure, I argue that performing a thought experiment involves a process of self-interrogation, in which we are compelled to reflect on our pre-existing knowledge of the world. In doing so, we are forced to make judgments about what assumptions we see as relevant and how they apply to an imaginary scenario. This brings to light the extent to which certain forms of skill, beyond the ability to make valid logical inferences, are necessary to execute a thought experiment well.

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