Colorado Summer Seminar in Philosophy
Thought Experiments in Philosophy
June 12-30, 2017

Director: David Boonin
Department of Philosophy
University of Colorado

course description: This team-taught course offers graduate-level treatment of a number of thought experiments across a wide range of areas in philosophy.  It presupposes a strong undergraduate background in philosophy but does not presuppose any familiarity with the particular texts or issues to be discussed.

course format: This course is a seminar, limited in enrollment to 20 students, that involves a mixture of lecture and class discussion.

required readings: All required readings are listed below and are available as electronic texts linked to this syllabus.  Students are expected to come to class each day having done the required readings.  To make this possible, students should do a good amount of the readings prior to arriving in Boulder. 

course requirements: In order to receive credit for this course, students must submit a 15-20 pp. term paper by August 31st.  For students who take the course for credit and who choose the letter grade option, the final grade will be based primarily on the term paper, but class participation will also be taken into account.

additional policies: Click here for information on policies regarding the honor code, classroom environment, disabilities, religious observances, and discrimination and harassment.

class meetings: All classes meet in Hellems 269 from 9:00 - 12:00.

June 12: Parfit’s Pregnant Teenager (David Boonin)    
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Chapter 16
David Boonin, The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People, Chapter 1                   

June 13: Parfit’s Population Z (Mike Huemer)          
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Chapter 17

        Michael Huemer, "In Defense of Repugnance"

June 14: Parfit’s Teletransporter (Mike Huemer)
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, pp. 199-210, 215-17, 223-25, 229-33, 266-72
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, remaining parts of Chapters 10-12 (optional)

June 15: Parfit’s Harmless Torturers (Alastair Norcross)
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, sections 28 and 29.
        Alastair Norcross, "Comparing Harms: Headaches and Human Lives"

June 16: Parfit’s Sick Stranger Chris Heathwood)
        Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Appendix I (pp. 493-95 required; the rest is optional)
        Chris Heathwood, "The Problem of Remote Desires"
        Mark Lukas, "Desire Satisfactionism and the Problem of Irrelevant Desires” (optional)
June 19: Foot’s Trolley (Adam Hosein)
        Judith Jarvis Thomson, "The Trolley Problem"
        Joshua Greene, "The Secret Joke of Kant's Soul"

June 20: Plato's Ring of Gyges (and other thought experiments)  (Mitzi Lee)
        Plato, selections from Republic, Protagoras, and Timaeus

June 21: Rachels’ Drowning Children (Graham Oddie)      
        James Rachels, "Active and Passive Euthanasia"
        Graham Oddie, "Killing and Letting-Die: Bare Differences and Clear Differences"
        Erik Carlson, "The Badness of Killing and Letting Die"        

June 22: Allais’s Two Gambles (Douglas MacLean)         
        Jonah Lehrer, "The Allais Paradox"
        Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project, selection

June 23: Nozick’s Experience Machine (
Susan Wolf)      
        Robert Nozick, "The Experience Machine"                                              

June 26: Jackson’s Color Scientist (Michael Tooley)
        Frank Jackson, "Epiphenomenal Qualia"
Martine Nida-Rümelin, "Qualia: The Knowledge Argument"                   

June 27: Schrödinger's Cat (Heather Demarest)
        David Albert, "Superposition"
        Video #1: "Schrödinger's Cat"
        Video #2: "The Copenhagen Interpretation"

June 28: Avicenna's Flying Man (Robert Pasnau)
        Avicenna, Selections from "The Soul"
        Michael Marmura, "Avicenna's 'Flying Man' in Context"

June 29: Putnam’s Twin Earth (Graeme Forbes)         
        Hilary Putnam, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'"     

        Graeme Forbes, "An Anti-Essentialist Note on Substances"
        Jesper Kallestrup, Semantic Externalism, Chapter 3

June 30: Thomson’s Violinist (David Boonin)
        Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"