I teach courses in the broad area known as "M&E" (Metaphysics and Epistemology). The kinds of questions we consider in my classes include:
- Are mental states just brain states?
- Can computers think?
- What can we know?
- What is truth and why is it important?
- In virtue of what does a thing or person persist through time?
- What distinguishes science from non-science?
- Does science reveal the nature of reality?
These are deep questions, and sometimes we have to drag out some heavy machinery to answer them. However, since we often already have strong intuitions about these matters, we can accomplish a lot through some conceptual analysis. One of the most powerful tools in the philosopher's toolkit is the thought experiment, which is an imaginary scenario designed to elicit intuitions. A thought experiment might begin as follows:
- Suppose you are a brain-in-a-vat controlled by an evil scientist…
- Suppose that your experience of the color of grass is like my experience of the color of a ripe tomato…
- What if, while standing at the edge of a swamp, you are struck by a bolt of lightning that simultaneously reduces your body to its elements and causes the generation of a molecule-for-molecule duplicate of your body from the primordial goo…
While these scenarios seem fantastic, they also can be quite instructive. One thing is certain: they rarely fail to lead to lively and enjoyable discussions!