Our books

Become a Fan

« How to waste your money without improving your writing | Main | Get out the vote »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David Morrow

Hmm....good question.

Hume's riddle of induction? The problem of evil? Could an omnipotent god make a monster truck so heavy that the god couldn't lift it? Or maybe something to do with personal identity (e.g., why doesn't Star Trek-style teleportation amount to killing people and then creating a clone of them somewhere else)? Or an old Millian question about math and the a priori: If every time you put an object next to another of the same kind , you ended up with three objects, would 1 + 1 = 3?


I sometimes use a life-boat case in which students have to rank various beings in order of priority for a spot on the life-boat. (I think the idea was originally in a issue of Teach-Phil).

Transporter paradoxes are good for metaphysics of identity.

Pre-cog stuff a la "Minority Report" can work for Free Will and determinism.

I think something good could be done with communicating with aliens thought experiments--what should we send to aliens that it is likely they could understand and would signal intelligence? Requires them to think about language, universality, translation, and the possibility of truly alien intelligence.

Just a few off the top of my head.


Experience machine is great, I think. It's one of my favorite things to talk about in ethics and introduction. I'd also consider arguments that purport to show that death isn't bad for the one who dies.

If you want to get away from harms, wrongs, goods, etc., my best intro classes tend to be either a version of the argument from evil or a discussion of foreknowledge and freedom. The PoE is tricky because students can get really upset by this, but the way I've introduced students is by first introducing them to Leibniz's principle of the best. After arguing that this world is the best of all possible worlds, I explain that this faces an obvious problem. They tie themselves in knots trying to do/undo the principle of the best and it's a nice exercise where I force them to try to identify the steps they'd give up, strategies for reconciling the appearance of evil with the principle of the best, etc. The foreknowledge and freedom thing is great because they seem to be really persuaded that there's an incompatibility, they chase some ideas down some dead alleys, and then they can see that this problem is probably no problem at all unless there's some further connection between foreknowledge and determinism. It's here, by the way, where you can blow their collective minds by first arguing for incompatibility and then predicting their behavior. I've used the Denmark/kangaroo/orange trick to persuade them that their actions are predictable.

Moti Mizrahi

In intro courses, I like to start with non-philosophical questions that students can relate to in order to get them hooked on philosophy and to demonstrate the power of critical thinking.

So, for example, I ask them whether or not they believe in the American dream. Most of them usually say that they do. Then I ask them whether they personally know a story of rugs-to-riches. Most of them usually say that they don’t, but they believe in the American dream anyway. Then I present some data about social mobility in the US. Usually, most students are unfazed. That leads to a discussion about belief, justification, and so on.

If you prefer epistemic puzzles, the surprise test paradox is always a hit.

Peter Nichols

Many thanks for these reponses--lots of helpful suggestions here. I'm leaning toward either personal identity puzzles or the experience machine. There are a lot of good examples in recent film and TV of body switching, duplication, and related personal identity stuff (e.g. Avatar, Agent Smith, the "Man in Black" from Lost). Perhaps some of these fictional examples would help to engage students' interest. I'll be giving this some more thought, but your responses have given me a lot of good ideas to consider. Thanks again.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Job ads crowdsourcing thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory