Thought Experiments, Epistemology & our Cognitive (In)Capacities

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Westphal, Kenneth R.
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conference paper description
Does epistemology collapse for lack of resources other than logic, conceptual analysis and descriptions of one’s own apparent experiences, thoughts and beliefs? No, but understanding how and why not requires, Kant noted, a ‘changed method of thinking’ (veränderte Methode der Denkungsart; KdrV Bxvii, 704). Some of these methodological changes are summarised in §2 in order to identify a philosophical role for thought experiments to help identify logically contingent, though cognitively fundamental capacities and circumstances necessary to human thought, experience and knowledge. As Kant also noted, experiments are only informative in response to posing the right question, indeed: the right kind of question (KdrV Bxii–xiv). Accordingly, preparations for these epistemological thought experiments (§2) fill half of this chapter. The second half (§§3–5), examines three such thought experiments, variously developed by Kant, Hegel, C. I. Lewis, Austin, Wittgenstein and F. L. Will.