“Literature & Thought Experiments”: New Article by David Egan

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism recently published a new article by David Egan titled “Literature & Thought Experiments.”

The article can be accessed [here].

The abstract is as follows:

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.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with David at the University of Chicago. I never fail to be impressed by the agility with which he thinks across the analytic/continental divide and the insight he brings, not only to works of philosophy, but to works of literature. The named article is fairly ‘analytic.’ For a sense of his range, you might see also his edited volume (together with Stephen Reynolds and Aaron Wendlend), Wittgenstein and Heidegger.


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