UCL Philosophy


Professor James Wilson: "Thought Experiments, Experience, and Ethical Insight"

30 May 2024, 6:30 pm–8:00 pm

UCL Quad

Join us for Professor James Wilson's Inaugural Professorial Lecture "Thought Experiments, Experience, and Ethical Insight", hosted by the UCL Philosophy Department, followed by a drinks reception.

Event Information

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UCL Philosophy Department


Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre
Wilkins Building
Gower Street
United Kingdom

Much philosophical work in normative ethics makes heavy use of thought experiments. It's not obvious that thinking hard about escaped trolleys is helpful for making wise real-world decisions. Many philosophers respond that thought experiments are akin to scientific experiments - an analogy I've examined elsewhere. This lecture examines whether thought experiments in ethics can be defended as learning from fictions. I argue that this move also misfires: literature is a source of ethical insights not because it is fictional, but because it creates rich worlds of experience. It is precisely this experiential element that thought experiments typically lack.

About the Speaker

Professor James Wilson

at UCL Philosophy Department

James Wilson is Professor of Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at University College London, and co-Director of UCL's Health Humanities Centre. He has published widely on bioethics, the philosophy of public policy, and governance of ideas and information. His research uses philosophy to help resolve practical problems, and uses practical problems to investigate gaps and weaknesses in existing philosophical theories. His book Philosophy for Public Health and Public Policy: Beyond the Neglectful State (Oxford University Press) was published in 2021.

More about Professor James Wilson