Remodeling the past

Tim de Mey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In some of the papers in which she develops and defends the mental modelview of thought experiments in physics, Nersessian expresses the belief that her account has implications for thought experiments in other domains as well. In this paper, I argue, firstly, that counterfactual reasoning has a legitimate place in historical inquiry, and secondly, that the mental model view can account for such "alternative histories". I proceed as follows. Firstly, I review the main accounts of thought experiments in physics and point at some explanatory advantages of the mental model view. Subsequently, I argue that historians cannot dispense with counterfactual reasoning altogether and qualify a number of principled objections against the explicit use of alternative histories for theoretical purposes. Finally, I show that the mental model view can account for such thought experiments in history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-66
Number of pages20
JournalFoundations of Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


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