The False Promise of Thought Experimentation in Moral and Political Philosophy

In Borstner Bojan & Gartner Smiljana (ed.), Thought Experiments between Nature and Society. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 328-348 (2017)
Abstract
Prof. Miščević has long been an ardent defender of the use of thought experiments in philosophy, foremost metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind. Recently he has, in his typically sophisticated manner, extended his general account of philosophical thought-experimenting to the domain of normative politics. Not only can the history of political philosophy be better understood and appreciated, according to Miščević, when seen as a more or less continuous, yet covert, practice of thought-experimenting, the very progress of the discipline may crucially depend on finding the right balance between the constraints of (biological, psychological, economic, political, and so on) reality and political-moral ideals when we set to design our basic political notions and institutions. I have much less confidence in this project than prof. Miščević does. As a subspecies of moral TE, political TE share all their problems plus exhibit some of their own. In the paper, I present and discuss two types of evidence that threaten to undermine political philosophers’ trust in thought-experiments and the ethical/political intuitions elicited by them: (i) the dismal past record of thought-experimentation in moral and political philosophy; and (ii) the variety, prevalence, and stubbornness, of bias in ordinary social/political judgment.
Keywords thought experiments  moral and political intuitions  Nenad Miščević  Joel Feinberg  social biases
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