Abstract: Thought experiments are fictional narratives that serve as devices to widen our cognitive horizons both in the sciences and in philosophy. In our talk we argue that they perform this function by prompting a specific kind of imagination that brings the perspective of another person into view (de illo imagining).
The main role of thought experiments is not to transmit true propositions to the reader, but to express a specific point of view. After presenting our analysis of thought experiments and of the role that de illo imagination plays in them, we revisit Galileo Galilei’s use of imaginary cases in light of our account. We show that the main aims of Galileo’s thought experiments are to highlight how different points of view affect imagination and to invite readers to actively engage in different perspectives.
Readers of thought experiments do not passively absorb information, but critically assess the other’s point of view and contrast it with their own. To perform this task successfully, thought experiments need to be designed in a way that allows the reader to relate to the proposed (fictional) scenario.