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Literature and Thought Experiments

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Like works of literature, thought experiments present fictional narratives that prompt reflection in their readers. Because of these and other similarities, a number of philosophers have argued for a strong analogy between works of literary fiction and thought experiments, some going so far as to say that works of literary fiction are a species of thought experiment. These arguments are often used in defending a cognitivist position with regard to literature: thought experiments produce knowledge, so works of literary fiction can too. This article concedes that works of literary fiction can be put to use in thought experiments, but not in a way that is helpful to the cognitivist. In particular, it draws three disanalogies in the ways we engage critically with thought experiments and with literary fictions. First, we use thought experiments to make arguments; second, we read thought experiments in strongly allegorical terms; and third, the terms of criticism we apply to thought experiments and to works of literature differ. Although these disanalogies present problems for the cognitivist position, they also give us a sharper picture of the distinctive educative potential of works of literary fiction.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2016

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