epistemology of science

"Can thought experiments be resolved by experiment? The case of 'Aristotle's Wheel'": Philosophical Thought Experiments, ed. Letitia Meynell, Jim Brown and Melanie Frappier, a volume in the Routledge Philosophy of Science series, exp. publ. date 2012. [abstract [preprint]

"On thought experiments as a priori science": International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 13, 3, 215-229, 1999.  [preprint] 

  • Abstract: Against Norton's claim that all thought experiments can be reduced to explicit arguments, I defend J. R. Brown's position that certain thought experiments yield a priori knowledge. They do this, I argue, not by allowing us to perceive "Platonic universals" (Brown), even though they may contain non-propositional components that are epistemically indispensable, but by helping to identify certain tacit presuppositions or "natural interpretations" (Feyerabend's term) that lead to a contradiction when the phenomenon is described in terms of them, and by suggesting a new natural interpretation in terms of which the phenomenon can be redescribed free of contradiction. This is a complicated argument, and involves a rigorous analysis of Galileo's thought experiment with the two bodies tied together, as well as consideration of the essentiality of visual components to thought experiments (and knowledge generally). It begins by introducing the latter through a juxtaposition of Brown's conception of a priori knowledge and Diderot's rejection of the Argument from Design, achieved through the analysis of a dream (!). Also, I now think that my closing remarks are entirely consistent with Leibniz's much under-appreciated epistemology, in which we reason with concepts that are to a large extent "confused", whose components we are always striving to make more explicit.

© Richard Arthur 2012