The Place of Thought Experiments in Philosophy

Filip Tvrdý



Thought experiments are popular tools of argumentation in science and philosophy. The criticism of these experiments from naturalized and experimental philosophers has led to the formation of deflationary and minimalist approaches that weaken the epistemic power of thought experiments and reconcile them with empiricism. This paper aims to demonstrate that these attempts do not overcome the main problems encountered by thought experiments in philosophy. The limits of human rationality and imagination prevent experimenters from solving unrealistic scenarios in a reliable way. Thought experiments in philosophy are different from science because the real ones usually cannot be implemented and are not open to the possibility of empirical falsification. Moreover, they are based on defective analogies and they shift the burden of proof unfairly. The persuasive success of thought experiments is very low; therefore, they cannot contribute to the solution of philosophical problems. The paper concludes that the most common types of thought experiments should be removed from the set of philosophical methods.


epistemology; philosophy of science; thought experiments; eliminativism; argumentation

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