Document Type

Book chapter

Source Publication


Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Oxford University Press


thought experiments, empiricism, scientific experiments, James Robert Brown, John Norton, Simon Stevin


This chapter presents and criticizes the two dominant accounts of thought experiments in science, due to James Robert Brown and John Norton; the mechanical thought experiment of Simon Stevin is used as an exemplar. The chapter argues that scientific thought experiments are strongly analogous to their ‘real’, actual physical, counterparts. In each kind of experiment, theoretical context affects which arguments are generated and/or thought to be sustainable on the basis of the states of affairs involved. The difference is whether the states of affairs are hypothetical and/or counterfactual rather than actual. This view is consistent with empiricism concerning scientific thought experiments. On such empiricism, the (good) arguments that it is possible to pump from thought experiments have premises grounded in experience, rather than an additional faculty.



Publisher Statement

Copyright © Oxford University Press 2014

Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.

Additional Information

ISBN of the source publication: 9780191669125

The same paper is also presented at:
the 39th Annual Conference of the Philosophical Society of Southern Africa, Durban, Southern Africa, January, 2013,
the 39th Annual Philosophy of Science Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia, April, 2012, and
the Philosophy Seminar, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 26 April, 2013.

Full-text Version


Recommended Citation

Rowbottom, D. P. (2014). Intuitions in science: Thought experiments as argument pumps. In A. R. Booth & D. P. Rowbottom, Intuitions (pp. 119-134). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609192.003.0007

Included in

Epistemology Commons