Philosophy of Science Seminar: Alice Murphy

5 February 2020, 2.00 PM - 5 February 2020, 4.00 PM

Alice Murphy, University of Leeds

G2, Cotham House

Thought Experiments and the Value of Surprise

When discussing thought experiments in science, it is common to highlight their similarities with other practices—arguments, concrete experiments and more recently, computer simulations—in order to shed light on their epistemic value. There are different dimensions along which we can explore these comparisons, but I will focus on just one: the issue of surprise.

While there is a lack of philosophical analysis of surprise, it has been argued that concrete experiments can surprise us in a way that computer simulations cannot. Further, this gives us reason to privilege experiments over simulations (Morgan, 2005).

It appears that this argument also has consequences for thought experiments. I set out to show that such a view assumes a particular notion of surprise, and drawing on my work with Steven French, I explore other aspects of this phenomenon and its significance in science in order to illustrate the ways in which thought experiments can bring about productive surprises.

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