Exploring Philosophical Thought Experiments

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Exploring Philosophical Thought Experiments Essay Assignment Paper


Thought Experiments are creations of the imagination used by philosophers to investigate thoughts, ideas, reasoning and understanding. They are used in a variety of philosophical disciplines: ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, logic, for example. Typically, philosophical thought experiments present a narrative, or story, that describes a counter-factual or hypothetical situation. The person engaged in the thought experiment is often asked to imagine themselves as a subject in the experiment, under the conditions the experiment dictates. In this way, philosophers can explore the personal knowledge acquired by such experiments, and use it to further their own understanding.

For this assignment, discover a philosophical thought experiment that appeals to you, describe this experiment in your paper as well as its origin (who made it and why?), and describe the logic of the experiment (what is it supposed to teach?). Finally, explain what you personally learned by engaging in the thought experiment, and how you might use your new knowledge.

Choose one of the following Thought Experiments to investigate:

  • The Ship of Theseus (Plato): A thought experiment on the nature of identity.
  • The Inverted Spectrum Problem (John Locke): A thought experiment on the nature of perception and reality.
  • The Swamp Man (Donald Davidson): A thought experiment on the construction of meaning.
  • The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Merrill Flood and Melvin Drescher): A thought experiment on reward and punishment
  • The Private Language Argument, “Beetle in a Box” (Ludwig Wittgenstein): A thought experiment on the nature of language.
  • Mary’s Room, Knowledge Argument (Frank Jackson): A thought experiment on the nature of knowledge.
  • The Chinese Room Argument (John Searle): A thought experiment about Artificial Intelligence.
  • The Pleasure Machine, or Experience Machine (Robert Nozick): A thought experiment on the value of pleasure.
  • The Utility Monster (Robert Nozick): A thought experiment that refutes ethical utilitarianism.
  • The Trolley Problem (Philippa Foot): A thought experiment in personal ethics.
  • Thomson’s Violinist (Judith Jarvis Thomson): A thought experiment on the defense of abortion.
  • The Original Position (John Rawls): A thought experiment on the nature of society.

Essays should be between 3-5 pages (1000 words). Your essay should have a formal introduction, body, and conclusion. Please begin thinking about your topic as early as possible in the course.

Suggested length is between 800 and 1000 words.


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