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Epistemology of thought experiments: The reason-responsiveness view

Irikefe, Paul Oghenovo 2022. Epistemology of thought experiments: The reason-responsiveness view. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Thought experiments play a prominent role in philosophical inquiry. And yet we lack a good understanding of how they work and how they are supposed to supply evidence or knowledge in inquiry. This dissertation offers a novel account of the epistemology of philosophical thought experiments, namely, the reason-responsiveness view. The view is inspired by a virtue ethical tradition that flowers in John McDowell (1994) and Miranda Fricker (2007). Drawing on this virtue ethical tradition, I argue that knowing in philosophical thought experiments is achieved through the exercise of the virtue of sensibility, which has three distinct features. First, it is social in origin, acquired through our training in a human language and as ordinary members of a community. Second, it is recognitional in the sense that although our sensibility gives us the ability to classify situations, whether real or hypothetical and to resonate with rational considerations for or against a given classificational judgement (i.e., the judgements we form in thought experiments), it does not equip us with a reflective ability to fully articulate those reasons in an infallible way. And third, it allows us to project across various contexts, both in real and in hypothetical situations. And this ability to project, I argue further, does not come from the ability of people to grasp concepts or to have certain mental episodes or phenomenology or to grasp universals or to have mastery of the application conditions of rules or from belonging to some exclusive club or from enjoying a certain superior access to concepts or access to philosophically interesting phenomena not available to ordinary people. On the contrary, that we do comes down to “our sharing routes of interest and feeling, mode of response, senses of humour and of significance, of what is outrageous, of what is similar to what else, what a rebuke, what forgiveness, of when an utterance is an assertion, when an appeal, when an explanation—all the while of organism Wittgenstein calls “forms of life” (Cavell, 1969, p.52). The account is then used to shore up the claim of epistemological continuity, which asserts that the epistemology of thought experiments is an extension of social cognition or social epistemology (Cappelen, 2012; Deutsch, 2015; Williamson 2007), and to offer a claim of epistemological-continuity-style defence of philosophical thought experiments against two major objections in the literature, namely, the negative experimentalist challenge (see Machery, 2017) and the ordinary language challenge ( Baz, 2016, 2017).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Funders: Cardiff University - Vice Chancellor's Scholarship
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 January 2023
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2023 12:31

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