LSE Philosophy PhD student Lorenzo Sartori just published his new paper ‘Putting the ‘Experiment’ back into the ‘Thought Experiment’ in the journal Synthese – An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science.
About the paper: Philosophers have debated at length the epistemological status of scientific thought experiments. I contend that the literature on this topic still lacks a common conceptual framework, a lacuna that produces radical disagreement among the participants in this debate. To remedy this problem, I suggest focusing on the distinction between the internal and the external validity of an experiment, which is also crucial for thought experiments. I then develop an account of both kinds of validity in the context of thought experiments. I show that we can naturally conceptualise internal validity in terms of games of make-believe. Then, I argue that external validity is best defined as accurate representation of a target system. Finally, I turn back to the current debate on thought experiments and show that my diarchic account provides a general framework that can be shared by the competing philosophical views, as well as a fruitful guide for their reconciliation.