Pierre Duhem and Ernst Mach on Thought Experiments

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 8 (1):1-27 (2018)
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The conventional interpretation that Pierre Duhem condemned outright any type of thought experiment in Ernst Mach’s sense should be, at least in large part, rejected. Although Duhem placed particular emphasis on the perils of thought experiments that Mach had overlooked or at least underestimated, he retained the core idea of Mach’s theory, according to which thought experiments cannot break free from the ultimate authority of real-world experiments. This similarity between Duhem’s and Mach’s views about thought experiments is not the only one. Just as there was in Duhem’s criticism of “expériences fictives” a tendency leading him to give voice to one of Mach’s basic empiricist claims, so also there was in Mach’s interpretation of thought experiments a tendency in the direction of Duhem’s conventionalism. If Mach’s and Duhem’s conceptions of thought experiments are compared, there results an importantly similar, although not identical, tension that should properly be taken into account in the more general comparison between Mach and Duhem.



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Citations of this work

Thought Experiments.Yiftach J. H. Fehige & James R. Brown - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 25 (1):135-142.
Pierre Duhem.Roger Ariew - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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Die mechanik in ihrer entwickelung historisch-kritisch dargestellt.Ernst Mach - 1885 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 19:232-235.

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