A couple of posts ago I wrote about Robert Nozick’s thought experiment the Experience Machine. This week the new semester started here at the University of Graz, and I am enrolled in a seminar titled Thought Experiments in Practical Philosophy. Yesterday was the first session and based on the first meeting, it looks like the course we will be highly informative and entertaining.
A thought experiment is a what if – a hypothetical situation in which an idea, a theory, or a principle is uniquely presented in a theoretical context. It allows us to think the given situation through under specific conditions and assess the potential consequences of certain actions.
In philosophy the scenarios can sometimes be obstruse or perplexing. Scenarios are typically designed to focus on a distinct philosophical concept – like hedonism in the case of the Experience Machine. Our reactions to the scenario might tell us something about ourselves, the scenario being depicted, or could lead off into an entirely different direction.
Below I’ve listed four thought experiments that are on the course syllabus. Clicking on the link will take you to a short YouTube video describing the given thought experiment.
- The Trolley Problem – a classic that has gotten attention well outside of philosophical circles.
- Violinist – from Judith Travis Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion.
- Peter Singer’s examination of our responsibilities to distant people in Drowning Child.
- John Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance.
Take a look at the videos and tell me which was your favorite thought experiment. Or, tell me what other thought experiments you find interesting.