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Kon-Tiki Experiments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


We identify a species of experiment—Kon-Tiki experiments—used to demonstrate the competence of a cause to produce a certain effect, and we examine their role in the historical sciences. We argue that Kon-Tiki experiments are used to test middle-range theory, to test assumptions within historical narratives, and to open new avenues of inquiry. We show how the results of Kon-Tiki experiments are involved in projective (rather than consequentialist) inferences, and we argue (against Kyle Stanford) that reliance on projective inferences does not provide historical scientists with any special protection against the problem of unconceived alternatives.

Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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For comments on drafts and presentations, the authors are grateful to Joseph McCaffrey, Raphael Scholl, Nora Boyd, Joshua Eisenthal, three anonymous reviewers for Philosophy of Science, members of a 2016 seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, and an audience at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Adrian Currie’s research was funded by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (no. 222637).


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