Experiment and Scientific Method in Ernst Mach

Serena Cattaruzza

The aim of this article is to bring out, both on historical and theoretical plane, the original epistemological contribution of the Moravian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916). Those phenomenological and experimental characteristics of his methodology are particularly emphasized which culminate in setting up of the so-called thought experiment (Gedankenexperiment), outlined in a famous chapter of his philosophical-scientific masterpiece Erkenntnis und Irrtum (1905). Despite critical reservations on the part of various reliable scholars (from Meinong to De Sarlo, to cite only two), the “thought experiment” showed itself to be extremely flexible and fruitful, not simply in the field of physics (as one can observe in the theories of Albert Einstein in particular), but also in those of literature, art, religion and politics. From the philosophical point of view, it is well-known that it was made full use of by, for instance, Ludwig Wittgenstein. At its base, in fact, one can detect a specific use of visual intuition, which acts as the hinge of experimental research, alongside the principle of economy. Their synergy stimulates not only the scientifically more sophisticated work but also spontaneous elementary productions.


Keywords: Mach · Cassirer · experimentation · percepts · concepts · symbolic form · Galileo · experiment · discovery · continuity

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