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Armchair Thinking about the Laboratory of the Mind

Colloquium on thought experiments

In this talk I will plunge us all into the thin air of imaginative rationalization. Starting from an adequate abstract account of how a normal experiment can be understood, I will introduce a model based approach to thought experiments that is inspired by the work of Cooper. This is done with the purpose of closing the modern debate on thought experiments once and for all.

The account provides an answer to the much discussed question of how it can be that thought experiments fail - which is not trivial, for, after all, the experiments are only to be thought through, not actually performed.

Although I believe that a unified account should be given of thought experiments in both science and philosophy, this does not mean that they are not distinct. I will argue that philosophical thought experiments, especially in metaphysics  (but perhaps not in epistemology), are fundamentally different from scientific ones as they mainly deal with the question of foundational (categoreal) coherence and not with the question of consistency, certainty, empirical adequacy, or otherwise.  

This analysis is able to explain why philosophical thought experiments are never settled definitively - the debate never stops, in contrast to the debate over scientific thought experiments. Nevertheless, I propose an account of foundational coherence inspired by Whitehead (Process and Reality (1928)) that allows for progress here too. The progress is to be demonstrated by showing that all mind-body thought experiments are doomed to failure.

Dr. Michiel Seevinck

Studied physics and philosophy at several universities in the Netherlands and abroad. Took his Ph.D. at the University of Utrecht with a thesis on the foundations of physics entititled "Parts and Wholes. An inquiry into quantum and classical correlations".

He is blessed with a Veni grant as well as with a Ducati 900 SS from 1977. For some years he has been teaching philosophy at the Radboud University in Nijmegen.  His research is more and more directed towards the question of how to handle fundamental polarities. According to Seevinck, these dualities are to be found across all of the sciences and he considers them a serious threat to any project aimed at philosophical understanding.

When & Where?

Wed 17 April, 2013, 15.15 - 17.00 h
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:05 April 2013 11.11 a.m.