Article

Thought Experiments

James Robert Brown

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0143
Thought Experiments

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Thought experiments are performed in the imagination. We set up some situation, we observe what happens, then we try to draw appropriate conclusions. In this way, thought experiments resemble real experiments, except that they are experiments in the mind. The terms “thought experiment,” “imaginary experiment,” and “Gedankenexperiment” are used interchangeably. There is no consensus on a definition, but there is widespread agreement on which are standard examples. It is also widely agreed that they play a central role in a number of fields, especially physics and philosophy. There are several important questions about thought experiments that naturally arise, but one of these is central: how can we learn something new about the world just by thinking? The question is especially pressing in the context of a prevailing empiricism. The answers range from “We don’t really learn anything new” to “We have some sort of a priori insight into how nature works.” In between there are a great variety of alternative, rival accounts. There is no consensus; debate is wide open on almost every question pertaining to thought experiments.

Article.  5471 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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