E-LOGOS - University of Economics, Prague
Faculty of Economics, University of Economics, Prague

Idealization and exemplification as tools of philosophy (2012)

Author: T. Lehtonen

Email: tolehton@uwasa.fi

Affiliation: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Vaasa, Finland

University of Vaasa
Faculty of Philosophy
PO Box 700
FI-65101 Vaasa

Article type: Standard scientific article

Section: Philosophy of Science

Language: language

Abstract (english):

Imaginary stories and thought experiments are often used in philosophy to clarify, exemplify, and provide evidence or counterevidence for abstract ideas and principles. Stories and thought experiments can illustrate abstract ideas and can test their credibility, or, at least, so it is claimed. As a by-product, stories and thought experiments bring literary, and even entertaining, elements into philosophy. Even a short survey of philosophical literature quickly shows that idealization and exemplification are the main approaches in the use of thought experiments. The aim of idealizations is to conceptualize and condense the central or relevant aspects of complex realities and to make those conceptualizations testable in the “laboratory of the mind.” What aspects are considered relevant depends on the point of view and the aim of the discussion. The aim of exemplifications is to make tangible and justify abstract ideas. Problems with idealization and exemplification include the risk of the loss of information on the one hand and the risk of too much irrelevant information on the other. This paper examines and evaluates these and other risks related to the use of imaginary stories and thought experiments in philosophy.

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