What If?: Thought Experimentation In Philosophy

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Transaction Publishers - Philosophy - 179 pages
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Thought experimentation has been a staple of philosophical methodology since classical antiquity, when Xenophanes of Colophon speculated that if horses had gods, they would be equine in form. Nicholas Rescher's What If? undertakes a systematic survey of the role and utility of thought experiments in philosophy. After surveying the historical issues, Rescher examines the principles involved, and explains the conditions under which thought experimentation can validly yield instructive results in philosophy. The reader gains understanding of the differences between scientific and philosophical experiments.

What If? begins by examining the nature of thought experiments. It presents an overview of how thought experiments have figured in natural science and in historical studies, before moving on to examine how they function as an instrument of philosophical inquiry. After examining thought experiments from the pre-Socratics to the present day, Rescher turns from history to analysis, and examines the modes of reasoning involved in the use of speculative hypotheses in philosophical problem solving. He shows the limitations of speculative ontology, showing that thought experimentation can lead readily to paradox in a way that increasingly diminishes its usefulness. The book concludes by arguing and illustrating how and when it becomes pointless to push speculation, or thought experimentation beyond the limits of intelligibility and cogent sense.

Among the principal features of Rescher's book is its elaborate analysis of the appropriate conditions for philosophical thought experimentation. Its cardinal thesis is that there indeed are limits to the appropriateness of this important methodological resource and that transgressing these limits destroys the prospect of drawing any valid lessons for the philosophical enterprise. What If? will be of interest to philosophers, students of philosophy, and theorists of logic and reasoning.

Nicholas Rescher is University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of numerous philosophical works and holds six honorary degrees from universities on three continents. He has served as a president of the American Philosophical Association, the American Metaphilosophical Society, and the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

 

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Contents

The Need for Context
9
Uses of Thought Experiments
15
Malfunction in Thought Experimentation
21
Thought Experimentation in Science and History
29
Thought Experimentation in Philosophy
47
Thought Experimentation in PreSocratic Philosophy 1
61
Some Classic Philosophical Thought Experiments
73
Plato and the Ring of Gyges
75
Validating Counterfactuals
96
The Weakest Link in Philosophical Aporetics
99
Aporetic Clusters in Philosophy
101
The Determinative Role of Systematicity Considerations
105
Issues of Speculative Ontology
111
How Fictional Possibilities Differ from Real Things
114
Impossible Objects
117
Philosophically Instructive Paradoxes
121

Buridans Ass
77
Descartes Deceiver
79
Descartes Wax
80
Lockes Locked Room
81
Lockes Changelings
82
Leibnizs Mill
83
Peirces Stone
84
James Squirrel
86
Chisholms Changeling
87
The Prisoners Dilemma
88
Some Lessons
89
Aporetics and CostBenefit Analysis in Philosophical Thought Experimentation
95
The Liar and His Cousins
122
Goodmans GrueBleen Paradox
125
The Role of Distinctions
127
Reductio ad absurdum
128
Thomsons Lamp as an Illustration of Reductio Reasoning
131
Per Impossible Reasoning
132
Outlandish Hypotheses and the Limits of Thought
137
On Overdoing Thought Experimentation
161
Bibliography
171
Name Index
177
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