Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Student Resistance to Thought Experiments

Regina A. Rini
APA Newsletter - Teaching Philosophy
Spring 2016, Volume 15 (2)


From Swampmen to runaway trolleys, philosophers make routine use of thought experiments. But our students are not always so enthusiastic. Most teachers of introductory philosophy will be familiar with the problem: students push back against the use of thought experiments, and not for the reasons that philosophers are likely to accept. Rather than challenge whether the thought experiments actually
support particular conclusions, students instead challenge their realism or their relevance.

In this article I will look at these sorts of challenges, with two goals in mind. First, there is a practical pedagogical goal: How do we guide students to overcome their resistance to a useful method? Second, there is something I will call “pedagogical bad faith.” Many of us actually do have sincere doubts, as professional philosophers, about the value of thought experiment methodology. Some of
these doubts in fact correspond to our students’ na├»ve resistance. But we often decide, for pedagogical reasons, to avoid mentioning our own doubts to students. Is this practice defensible?

The article is here.

Editor's Note: I agree with this article in many ways.  After I have read a philosophy article and a podcast using a thought experiment, I provided critiques regarding how the thought experiments were limited to the author. My criticisms were dismissed with a more ad hominem attack of my lack of understanding of philosophy or how philosophers work.  I was told I should read more philosophy, especially Derek Parfit.  I wish I had this article several years ago.