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Philosophical Thought Experiments: In Or Out Of The Armchair?

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Chapter Summary

Distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate uses of thought experiments could already be encountered in earlier philosophy of science. But our question about the conditions for successful thought experiments has rarely been addressed in recent literature, in particular if it is seen as a way of defending the very idea of thought experiments. To answer this question, this chapter proceeds in three steps. First, it exposes the problem and presents our general method to answer it. Secondly, the chapter analyses some examples of famous successful thought experiments in order to formulate a hypothesis on the conditions of a successful thought experiment. Thirdly, by offering examples of unsuccessful thought experiments the chapter illustrates what happens when one of these conditions is not fulfilled. In conclusion, the chapter makes a few remarks on the whys and wherefores of our argumentation.

Keywords:philosophy; thought experiment



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