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If you want to philosophise, it is good to know some of the many standard thought experiments and paradoxes that other philosophers have described in the past. Useful to know and fun to question others on. In fact, according to some philosophers, thought experiments are the philosopher's instrument par excellence. Precisely because thought experiments force us to think about what we think. In this post, you will find a list (with links) to the best philosophical thought experiments we know.

Philosophical Thought-experiments

The thought experiments do differ in terms of difficulty. Some are quite difficult. Others - such as the Trolley Problem - are light-hearted and great fun to think about. But they all are interesting and relevant for certain (difficult) philosophical theories.

Are they too difficult, too long or too philosophical for you? Click here for an article with more than 50 examples of simple moral dilemmas at work. These are probably a lot easier to discuss or to have a conversation about.

The most popular thought experiments in philosophy

  1. The Trolley Problem (Philippa Foot / Thomsons) Wikipedia
  2. The veil of ignorance (John Rawls) Wikipedia
  3. The allegory of the cave (Plato) Wikipedia
  4. The state of nature (especially known from Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau) Wikipedia
  5. The ship of Theseus (various philosophers) Wikipedia
  6. The grandfather paradox (various philosophers) Wikipedia
  7. The Chinese room (Searle) Wikipedia
  8. Brains in a barrel (Putnam) Wikipedia
  9. The ticking-bomb scenarios Wikipedia
  10. Achilles and the turtle (Zeno) Wikipedia

Other philosophical thought experiments / paradoxes

Other thought experiments described by philosophers:

  1. Schrödinger's cat (Schrödinger) Wikipedia
  2. Buridan's ass (Aristotle, Buridan, al-Ghazali) Wikipedia
  3. The lamp of Thomson (Thomson) Wikipedia
  4. The paradox of place (Zeno) Plato
  5. The grains of Millet (Zeno) Plato
  6. The arrow (Zeno) Plato
  7. The plank of Carneades (Carneades of Cyrene) Wikipedia
  8. The paradox of the court (Protagoras) Wikipedia
  9. The dichotomy of the runner (Zeno) Plato
  10. The paradox of a liar (various philosophers) Wikipedia
  11. The paradox of hope (Eubuliedes of Miletus) Wikipedia
  12. The paradox of the bald man (Eubuliedes of Miletus) Wikipedia
  13. The paradox of Frankfurt (Frankfurt) Wikipedia
  14. The problem of evil / suffering and God (Epicurus, Mackie) Wikipedia
  15. The paradox of omnipotence / the omnipotent God (Averroes) Wikipedia
  16. The unexpected hanging (Source unknown) Wikipedia
  17. Newcomb's problem / paradox (Newcomb / Nozick) Wikipedia
  18. Gettier's counterexamples (Gettier) Wikipedia
  19. The paradox of the teletransporter / Teletransportation paradox (Parfit) Wikipedia
  20. The disquotational principle (Kripke) Wikipedia
  21. The simulation hypothesis (Bostrom) Wikipedia  

Want to know more? Or do you find the explanation on Wikipedia too difficult? Then here's a tip: an interesting book on thought experiments is The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher by Julian Baggini. An accessible book full of interesting questions.