European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 395–434 | Cite as

How can computer simulations produce new knowledge?

  • Claus BeisbartEmail author
Original Paper in Philosophy of Science


It is often claimed that scientists can obtain new knowledge about nature by running computer simulations. How is this possible? I answer this question by arguing that computer simulations are arguments. This view parallels Norton’s argument view about thought experiments. I show that computer simulations can be reconstructed as arguments that fully capture the epistemic power of the simulations. Assuming the extended mind hypothesis, I furthermore argue that running the computer simulation is to execute the reconstructing argument. I discuss some objections and reject the view that computer simulations produce knowledge because they are experiments. I conclude by comparing thought experiments and computer simulations, assuming that both are arguments.


Computer simulations Knowledge Arguments Thought experiments Reasoning Extended mind hypothesis 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the workshop “Thought experiments and Computer Simulations” at the IHPST, Paris in March 2010. I’m grateful to the organizers and the other participants. Special thanks to John Norton for discussion and encouragement.


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Philosophy and Political ScienceDortmundGermany

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