Article/Publication Details

How to Reconstruct a Thought Experiment

(Original title: How to Reconstruct a Thought Experiment)
Organon F, 2011, vol. 18, No 2, pp. 154-188.
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Abstract

The paper is a contribution to the debate on the epistemological status of thought experiments. I deal with the epistemological uniqueness of experiments in the sense of their irreducibility to other sources of justification. In particular, I criticize an influential argument for the irreducibility of thought experiments to general arguments. First, I introduce the radical empiricist theory of eliminativism, which considers thought experiments to be rhetorically modified arguments, uninteresting from the epistemological point of view. Second, I present objections to the theory, focusing on the critique of eliminativism by Tamar Szabó Gendler based on the reconstruction of Galileo’s famous Pisa experiment. I show that her reconstruction is simplistic and that a more elaborate reconstruction is needed for an appropriate assess-ment of the epistemic power of general argument. I propose such a reconstruction and demonstrate that the general version of the Pisa experiment is epistemically equal to the particular one. Thus, from an epistemological perspective, Galileo’s thought experiment is reducible to a straightforward argument without particular premises.

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