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Philosophy of Natural Sciences: Laboratory of the Mind


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialization History and Philosophy of the Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialization Philosophy of Natural Sciences, or Philosophy of Psychology

This course is mandatory for MA students in Philosophy of Natural Sciences.


The theme is thought experiment. We analyse instances of thought experiment in philosophy (e.g. Gettier scenarios in epistemology, trolley cases in ethics) and in the natural sciences (e.g. Galileo Galilei’s and Albert Einstein’s thought experiments). We review theories about the efficacy of thought experiment, including Platonism, the suggestion that thought experiment is picturesque argument, and the suggestion that thought experiment makes tacit empirical knowledge explicit. We consider the similarities and differences between thought experiment and concrete experiment. We discuss the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions under which thought experiment acquires evidential significance, and consider where thought experiment carries weight and where it is evidentially inert. Finally, we evaluate the debate between practitioners of armchair philosophy, which traditionally relies on intuition and thought experiment, and advocates of experimental philosophy, which is suspicious of appeals to introspection.

Course objectives

This course aims to give students a good understanding of debates in philosophy of science about thought experiment in philosophy and in science, and to enable them to contribute to scholarly discussions of this topic.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the use of thought experiment in modern analytic philosophy and in the natural sciences in the seventeenth and twentieth centuries;

  • theories of the efficacy of thought experiment, including Platonist accounts and the views that thought experiment consists of picturesque argument and cognitive modelling;

  • accounts of the rise and historical development of the method of thought experiment;

  • competing views of the evidential significance of thought experiment;

  • the debate between practitioners of armchair philosophy and experimental philosophy about thought experiment and intuition.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • describe, discuss, and assess classic examples of thought experiment in philosophy and in natural science;

  • take a stance and argue for and against philosophical accounts of the nature and efficacy of thought experiment;

  • describe and discuss the historical development of the method of thought experiment;

  • present ideas on these topics orally and in writing.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy website
MA Philosophy 60 EC, or MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 28 hours

  • Attending seminars (13 weeks x 3 hours): 39 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature (550 pages; ca.7 pages per hour): 80 hours

  • Preparation of class presentation: 21 hours

  • Writing of research proposal: 20 hours

  • Writing of final paper: 120 hours

Assessment method

  • Class presentation (20 percent)

  • Research proposal (15 percent)

  • Final paper (65 percent)


Thee final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (midterm, final test). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.

Class participation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the final paper (or the resit).


The resit will consists of an essay. The mark will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting of course assignments

  • selected readings

  • online links

Reading list

The reading list will be made available at the start of the course. No textbook purchases required.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J. W. McAllister