When are Discussions of Thought Experiments Poor Ones? A Comment on Peijnenburg and Atkinson

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Cohnitz, Daniel
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In their recent paper, "When are thought experiments poor ones?" (Peijnenburg/Atkinson 2003), Jeanne Peijnenburg and David Atkinson present an argument to the conclusion that most, if not all, philosophical thought experiments are "poor" ones with "disastrous consequences" and that they share this property with some (but not all) scientific thought experiments. The moral they draw is that the use of thought experiments in science is generally more successful than in philosophy (of mind). In this comment I shall briefly try to show that Peijnenburg's and Atkinson's view on thought experiments as it is presented in Peijnenburg/Atkinson 2003, but also in Atkinson/Peijnenburg [forthcoming], and Atkinson 2003, is based on an misleading characterization of both, the dialectical situation in philosophy as well as the history of physics. By giving an adequate account of what the discussion in contemporary philosophy is about, we will arrive at a quite different evaluation of philosophical thought experiments.