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Studying Scientific Thought Experiments in Their Context: Albert Einstein and Electromagnetic Induction

Potters, Jan and Leuridan, Bert (2017) Studying Scientific Thought Experiments in Their Context: Albert Einstein and Electromagnetic Induction. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 58. pp. 1-11. ISSN 1355-2198

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Abstract

This article concerns the way in which philosophers study the epistemology of scientific thought experiments. Starting with a general overview of the main contemporary philosophical accounts, we will first argue that two implicit assumptions are present therein: first, that the epistemology of scientific thought experiments is concerned with factual knowledge of the world; and second, that philosophers should account for this in terms of the way in which individuals in general contemplate these thought experiments in thought. Our goal is to evaluate these assumptions and their implications using a particular case study: Albert Einstein's magnet-conductor thought experiment. We will argue that an analysis of this thought experiment based on these assumptions – as John Norton (1991) provides – is, in a sense, both misguided (the thought experiment by itself did not lead Einstein to factual knowledge of the world) and too narrow (to understand the thought experiment's epistemology, its historical context should also be taken into account explicitly). Based on this evaluation, we propose an alternative philosophical approach to the epistemology of scientific thought experiments which is more encompassing while preserving what is of value in the dominant view.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Potters, JanJan.Potters@UAntwerpen.be0000-0002-5292-5369
Leuridan, BertBert.Leuridan@UAntwerpen.be
Keywords: scientific thought experiments; Albert Einsten; magnet-conductor thought experiment; argument analysis
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Depositing User: Dr. Jan Potters
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2020 01:34
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2020 01:34
Item ID: 16912
Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Publisher: Elsevier
Official URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2017.04.002
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Date: 3 May 2017
Page Range: pp. 1-11
Volume: 58
ISSN: 1355-2198
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16912

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