, Volume 187, Issue 2, pp 731-752,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 18 Sep 2011

“Platonic” thought experiments: how on earth?

Abstract

Brown (The laboratory of the mind. Thought experiments in the natural science, 1991a, 1991b; Contemporary debates in philosophy of science, 2004; Thought experiments, 2008) argues that thought experiments (TE) in science cannot be arguments and cannot even be represented by arguments. He rest his case on examples of TEs which proceed through a contradiction to reach a positive resolution (Brown calls such TEs “platonic”). This, supposedly, makes it impossible to represent them as arguments for logical reasons: there is no logic that can adequately model such phenomena. (Brown further argues that this being the case, “platonic” TEs provide us with irreducible insight into the abstract realm of laws of nature). I argue against this approach by describing how “platonic” TEs can be modeled within the logical framework of adaptive proofs for prioritized consequence operations. To show how this mundane apparatus works, I use it to reconstruct one of the key examples used by Brown, Galileo’s TE involving falling bodies.