Thought Experiments in Ethics

Brun, Georg (2017). Thought Experiments in Ethics. In: The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments (pp. 195-210). London/New York: Routledge

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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?

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy > Theoretical Philosophy

UniBE Contributor:

Brun, Georg


100 Philosophy
100 Philosophy > 120 Epistemology
100 Philosophy > 170 Ethics






[42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds




Georg Brun

Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2018 12:54

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:09


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