Thought Experiments and Experimental Ethics

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Experimental ethicists investigate traditional ethical questions with non-traditional means, namely with the methods of the empirical sciences. Studies in this area have made heavy use of philosophical thought experiments such as the well-known trolley cases. Yet, the specific function of these thought experiments within experimental ethics has received little consideration. In this paper we attempt to fill this gap. We begin by describing the function of ethical thought experiments, and show that these thought experiments should not only be classified according to their function but also according to their scope. On this basis we highlight several ways in which the use of thought experiments in experimental ethics can be philosophically relevant. We conclude by arguing that experimental philosophy currently only focuses on a small subcategory of ethical thought experiments and suggest a broadening of its research agenda.

Author Profiles

Thomas Pölzler
University of Graz
Norbert Paulo
University of Salzburg


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