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Motivating the History of the Philosophy of Thought Experiments

Stuart, Michael T. and Fehige, Yiftach (2021) Motivating the History of the Philosophy of Thought Experiments. HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 11. pp. 212-221.

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Abstract

Introduction to a special issue of HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science on thought experiments. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the paper:

By any measure, the literature on thought experiments is thriving. Since 1988, we count at least thirteen monographs, seven collected editions, and eight journal issues dedicated to thought experiments. The thought experiments section of philpapers.org (moderated by Magdalena Balcerak Jackson) has 476 entries, which is more than the semantic view of theories (124), inference to the best explanation (198), scientific representation (203), structural realism (280), incommensurability in science (406) and is equal to the discussion of natural selection as a whole (476). Obviously, it is a lively and on-going discussion. And yet, there is still a lot of work to do.

Concerning the class of scientific thought experiments, the majority of papers either focus on specific scientific cases (Schrodinger’s cat is a case in point with 55 entries on philpapers.org), the thought experiments of a specific scientist (Einstein4 and Galileo5 attracting most of the attention), or the epistemology of scientific thought experiments in general. Lacking, however, are historical accounts of the philosophical discussion of scientific thought experiments. There are notable exceptions, but more work seems necessary for at least two reasons.
The first is that the current philosophical literature has much to gain by a reappraisal of its origins (or so we claim). The notion that there is a single “pure origin” of any debate is dubious (see Foucault 1977). Nevertheless, by identifying the historical contingencies that caused the on-going debate to take the shape it did, we are in a better position to entertain other directions the current debate could go, and also to (re)appropriate forgotten insights. A second reason why we think that it is worthwhile to look back at the history of the philosophy of scientific thought experiments is that most of the existing historical work on thought experiments has focused on individual thought experiments or individual accounts of thought experiments. We might call this micro-level history. What we do not see is macro-level history: that is, historical discussions of the interaction between different philosophers (or philosophical accounts), over time. Macro-level history can provide insights that are invisible at the micro level.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Stuart, Michael T.mike.stuart.post@gmail.com0000-0002-4165-2641
Fehige, Yiftach
Keywords: thought experiment; history of philosophy of science; pluralism; platonism; empiricism; metaphilosophy; Kuhn; Mach; Feyerabend; Goblot; Piaget
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
General Issues > Thought Experiments
General Issues > Values In Science
Depositing User: Michael T. Stuart
Date Deposited: 31 May 2023 12:29
Last Modified: 31 May 2023 12:29
Item ID: 22169
Journal or Publication Title: HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Official URL: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/epdf/10.1086...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1086/712940
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
General Issues > Thought Experiments
General Issues > Values In Science
Date: 2021
Page Range: pp. 212-221
Volume: 11
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/22169

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