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Causal inference in the abstract or seven myths about thought experiments

Reiss, Julian (2002) Causal inference in the abstract or seven myths about thought experiments. Technical report (CPNSS Research Project) (CTR 03/03). Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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I analyse and criticise the following seven commonly held, but to my mind, mistaken beliefs about thought experiments: (1) The history of science is full of significant thought experiments; (2) A good thought experiment provides evidence in its own right; (3) We learn from thought experiments in essentially the same way as we learn from concrete experiments; (4) It is puzzling that thought experiments allow us to learn about the world without providing new empirical data; (5) Thought experiments make acceptance of their result(s) compelling; (6) Mental experiencing is essential to thought experimentation; (7) Thought experimentation involves intervention. After clearing the ground in this way, I sketch a positive theory of the thought experiment. The basic idea of the new theory is to integrate thought experiments into a broader inductive scientific methodology. Within such a broader methodology, thought experiments can assume a number of functions, four of which I briefly discuss: (a) concept formation, (b) establishing a causal hypothesis, (c) nomological refutation and (d) suggestion of “new works”.

Item Type: Monograph (Report)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2002 The Author
Divisions: CPNSS
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2011 15:19
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2021 00:06

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