Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Unhinged Frames: Assessing Thought Experiments in Normative Political Theory

Abstract

This article develops a framework for assessing thought experiments in normative political theory. It argues that we should distinguish between relevant and irrelevant hypotheticals according to a criterion of modality. Relevant hypotheticals, while far-fetched, construct imaginary cases that are possible for us, here and now. Irrelevant hypotheticals conjure up imaginary cases that are barely conceivable at all. To establish this claim, the article interrogates, via a discussion of Susan Sontag and Judith Butler’s accounts of representations of violence, the frames through which hypotheticals construct possible worlds, and concludes that some frames are better than others at sustaining a link with the world as we know it. Frames that disrupt this link can be charged with failing to offer action-guidance.

Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All
*

Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh (email: mathias.thaler@ed.ac.uk). Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Political Theory Research Group meeting in Edinburgh (2015), the PSA General Conference in Sheffield (2015) and the APSA General Conference in San Francisco (2015). The author is grateful to the audiences of all these events for their excellent questions. Special thanks are due to Philip Cook, Liz Frazer, Dustin Howes, Kim Hutchings, Moya Lloyd, Mihaela Mihai, Kieran Oberman and Alan Wilson, who have read various/different versions of this article and proposed highly perceptive and helpful feedback. A debt of gratitude is also due to this Journal’s three referees for suggesting many improvements to the original manuscript. Finally, the author thanks the Editor, Rob Johns, for expertly navigating the article through the review process and for generously offering guidance throughout. The usual disclaimers apply. The research for this article has benefited from a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (JUDGEPOL).

Footnotes
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Fritz Allhoff . 2005. A Defense of Torture: Separation of Cases, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Moral Justification. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19:243264.

G. E. M Anscombe . 1958. Modern Moral Philosophy. Philosophy 33:119.

Luc Boltanski . 1999. Distant Suffering: Morality, Media, and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robert Brecher . 2007. Torture and the Ticking Bomb. Malden/Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Judith Butler . 2007. Torture and the Ethics of Photography. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25:951966.

Timothy Chappell . 2014. Knowing What to Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stanley Cohen . 2001. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge/Malden, Mass.: Polity.

Florian Cova , and Hichem Naar . 2011. Side-Effect Effect without Side Effects: The Pervasive Impact of Moral Considerations on Judgments of Intentionality. Philosophical Psychology 25:837854.

Jakob Elster . 2011. How Outlandish Can Imaginary Cases Be? Journal of Applied Philosophy 28:241258.

Colin Farrelly . 2007. Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation. Political Studies 55:844864.

Pablo Gilabert . 2011. Comparative Assessments of Justice, Political Feasibility, and Ideal Theory. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15:3956.

Frances M. Kamm 2006. Terrorism and Several Moral Distinctions. Legal Theory 12:1969.

Anthony Simon Laden . 2011. The Key to/of Public Philosophy. Political Theory 39:112117.

David Luban . 2014. Torture, Power, and Law. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jeff McMahan . 2002. The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jeff McMahan . 2009. Killing in War. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Charles W. Mills 2005. ‘Ideal Theory’ as Ideology. Hypatia 20:165183.

Alison Stone . 2005. Towards a Genealogical Feminism: A Reading of Judith Butler’s Political Thought. Contemporary Political Theory 4:424.

James Tully . 2008. Public Philosophy in a New Key. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Adrian Walsh . 2011. A Moderate Defence of the Use of Thought Experiments in Applied Ethics. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14:467481.

J. Jeremy Wisnewski . 2008. It’s About Time: Defusing the Ticking Bomb Argument. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 22:103116.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 22
Total number of PDF views: 61 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 379 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 17th October 2016 - 26th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.