"Thought Experiments, Experience, and Ethical Insight"
James Wilson (University College London), Lucy O'Brien (University College London)

Today, 6:30pm - 8:00pm
Department of Philosophy, University College London

Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre
London WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom


University College London

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Summary: Much philosophical work in normative ethics makes heavy use of thought experiments. It's not obvious that thinking hard about escaped trolleys is helpful for making wise real-world decisions. Many philosophers respond that thought experiments are akin to scientific experiments - an analogy I've examined elsewhere. This lecture examines whether thought experiments in ethics can be defended as learning from fictions. I argue that this move also misfires: literature is a source of ethical insights not because it is fictional, but because it creates rich worlds of experience. It is precisely this experiential element that thought experiments typically lack.

Biography: James Wilson is Professor of Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at University College London, and co-Director of UCL's Health Humanities Centre. He has published widely on bioethics, the philosophy of public policy, and governance of ideas and information. His research uses philosophy to help resolve practical problems, and uses practical problems to investigate gaps and weaknesses in existing philosophical theories. His book Philosophy for Public Health and Public Policy: Beyond the Neglectful State (Oxford University Press) was published in 2021.

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