What are thought experiments?

They are the consideration of particular—usually practical—issues that encompass broader, philosophical ideas. For example, the practical decision about whether to keep our dog in a crate or loose in the backyard can be viewed as a thought experiment about the nature of life and the trade-offs between freedom and danger and captivity and safety.

When we distill philosophical concepts down to day-to-day, seemingly minor events, it helps us wrap our head around these broader, more complex issues.

That’s what the new nine-part Learn Liberty On Demand video series, Thought Experiments in Liberty, intends to do. Professors Peter Jaworski, Howard Baetjer, and Matt Zwolinski use thought experiments to expand normal cognitive processes and worldviews. Sign up here.

After completing this course, you’ll begin to see how even the smallest daily issues tie into a much more complex framework.

For instance, what do we do when we see a spider in a toilet? That’s the question philosophy professor Thomas Nagel asks in the Learn Liberty video below. Intervening in the spider’s life to move it to “safety” can actually kill it because it’s being taken from its conditioned environment. This specific decision forces us to question the morality of our own good intentions.

Can you think of any thought experiments of your own? Leave your comments below.