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Thought Experiment as a Method of Legal Reasoning

The purpose of the article is to spell out the role thought experiments play in law, especially in its interpretation and application. A thought experiment understood, following Ernst Mach, Roy Sorensen, and Bartosz Brożek, as a way to confront a theory or a hypothesis with “intuitive knowledge” or, more widely “background knowledge” through a mental simulation of the imagined situation, is a way of reasoning applied not only in physics or philosophy, but used commonly in everyday reasonings, especially that of a normative nature. In law, thought experiments enable – through the reorganization of pre-existing knowledge and intuition – the realization of the possible consequences of a given normative or interpretative decision. This holds true especially when it comes to consequences that go beyond the scope of a given case. The article presents two extensive examples from the Polish judicial practice, where the basis for the decisions can be found in the results of prior thought experiments.