A Philosophical Defence of Thought Experiments in Political Philosophy

Mendie, Patrick Johnson (2023) A Philosophical Defence of Thought Experiments in Political Philosophy. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis provides a defence of thought experiments in political philosophy, also known as ‘political thought experiments’ (PTEs). Different problems cast doubt on whether PTEs can be considered as being trustworthy. Critics think that the use of unrealistic hypotheticals in PTEs is problematic, especially when scenarios are completely detached from ‘real’ and ‘recurring’ situations as they occur in the actual world. I resolve this problem using the reflective equilibrium method, demonstrating how we can establish the logical equivalence between the unrealistic scenarios and the real-world counterparts with which they can be compared to understand their real-world implications. I also argue that since PTEs are arguments, the use of unrealistic premises does not affect the validity of their arguments. Critics also think that PTEs yield varying responses from different readers, meaning their intuitions are neither stable nor objective. I respond to this concern using John Norton’s ‘ argument view’ which proposes the idea that scientific thought experiments are disguised arguments, consisting of tacit premises and conclusions. I extend this view to PTEs, arguing that some PTEs contain valid arguments ruled by a system of logical inference. I examine some examples of PTEs by reconstructing them as valid arguments, arguing that PTEs with valid arguments are capable of evoking stable and objective intuitions. Finally, I discuss the concern of whether PTEs can motivate readers, in particular, how PTEs can be used in responding to real-world dilemmas. I establish the relationship between PTEs and narratives arguing that PTEs with ‘narrative transport’ would reasonably motivate readers. Using the problem of corruption in Nigeria as a case study, I show how PTEs can provide action guidance in responding to the issues of corruption in Nigeria. In conclusion, the original contribution of this research lies in the defenceof PTEs, and the claim that PTEs can be useful in solving real-world dilemmas.

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Thesis (PhD)
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24 Feb 2023 16:50
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:56