Thought Experiments in Ethics

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Brun, Georg
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conference paper description
This chapter suggests a scheme of reconstruction, which explains how scenarios, questions and arguments figure in thought experiments. It then develops a typology of ethical thought experiments according to their function, which can be epistemic, illustrative, rhetorical, heuristic or theory-internal. Epistemic functions of supporting or refuting ethical claims rely on metaethical assumptions, for example, an epistemological background of reflective equilibrium. In this context, thought experiments may involve intuitive as well as explicitly argued judgements; they can be used to generate moral commitments, to explore consequences of moral theories, and to show inconsistencies within or between moral commitments and moral theory; but the results of thought experiments by themselves do not settle what is epistemically justified and may also be rejected. Finally, some prominent challenges are discussed: do unrealistic scenarios undermine epistemic thought experiments? Are ethical thought experiments misleading? Do they rely on weak analogies? Are there specifically moral objections to ethical thought experiments?