Can we experience truth?

In this essay I will argue that you can never experience the truth, because when you experience  something you always have an incomplete and biased translation of a phenomenon that was the  truth on that moment. In order to do so, I will start with a definition of truth. Then I will explain why  the experience of the truth is always an incomplete interpretation of the truth. After that I will  explain why this interpretation is biased. Fourthly, I will explain why that makes it impossible to  experience the truth. Then I shall discuss the objection of the scientific approach. And I will end with  a conclusion on this essay.

 To grasp the idea about experiencing the truth, we must first find out what truth is. Martin Heidegger  has a definition of truth in his work Being and Time. Heidegger states that according to the ancient Greek “truth is the simple sense perception of something”. 1 According to Heiddegger “ perception is always true, this means that looking always discovers colours, hearing always discovers tones”. 2 This  tells us that truth is that what you perceive when using your senses. And what you perceive trough your senses is true. So we can percieve the truth and what we percieve is true. We can use our senses to access a phenomenon that is happening on a particular moment and therefore access the truth on that moment. This definition excludes the fact that a being is not always what it shows itself to be, but I shall not focus on that part of truth because it has less to do with the human capability to experience the truth. 

 Now that we have a definition of truth, we can see that it still does not tell us if we can experience  the truth. Because, to experience the truth, we must interpret our perceptions into thoughts. ‘Thoughts are formulated in a linguistic form’3, as we can learn from Hans-Georg Gadamer in his work Semantics and Hermeneutics. This means that all of our thoughts are formulated in language.  Therefore, language is used to interpret our perceptions. We see that Gadamer also claims that ‘hermeneutical inquiry is based on the fact that language always leads behind itself and that this makes clear that anything that is thought has limits’.4 ‘Linguistic expressions always fall short of what they evoke.’5 When we consider this, the linguistic form in which we interpret our perception is not complete. There are things that we simply do not know and therefore we can only perceive them but not interpret them genuinely. For example when we see and hear someone playing a banjo, but we have never heard of such an instrument. We could translate it as a guitar, but this is not the truth on that moment. Linguistic expression can also cover things up. For example things that relate to a positive or negative emotion so that we have a certain perspective on that what we precepted. This means that our experience of what happened can be incomplete without us knowing this, because  we cannot interpret everything and things can be covered up.

 When we agree on the fact that our thoughts are formulated in language and that our experience  can therefore never be complete, it is still possible that the part that we can translate in the right way can be true. However, language has another limit, the limit of prejudices, concepts and agreements. Gadamer states that ‘all language relies on prejudices and preconcepts.’6 This means that all of our language is based on earlier experiences, opinions and things that are taught by our educators and social circle. Furthermore, ‘language exists by the means of establishing meanings by convention’.7 The purpose of language is to understand each other. There must be an agreement on the concepts in language, otherwise it is impossible to translate your experience in an authentic way.  This means that when we translate an experience, this translation is always influenced by earlier experiences and builds upon concepts and definitions of others. In this way, language can never represent truth and therefore we can never experience the truth. When we combine this argument of concept based language with the argument that language has its limits, we can conclude that it is not possible to experience the truth.

 An objection that can be raised on the reasoning above is that science, due to its methodology,  exposes true knowledge. Therefore scientists who discover new things do actually experience truth They can have an experience that was unknown before they experienced it and they are able to give it a new definition due to their position in society. But it is not certain that scientific methods reveal the truth.  Firstly, we acknowledge the truthfulness of science because of its methodology. But Jean Grondin states in her book Sources of Hermeneutics that ‘our mind reasons upon subjective principles, such as causality, and it actively imposes natures laws of logic’.8 We can conclude that we cannot be certain that methodology is a proper way to practice science because our mind relates to this method as a biased idea of logic. Therefore we cannot state objectively that methodology is truthful. Secondly, Gadamer writes that ‘science is often seen as the highest authority in decisionmaking processes of society.’9 ‘The position of science can be suspected because of its ideology’.10 This raises the question if science in general has an objective position. So we cannot be sure to what extent scientific discoveries are true. Due to the subjectivity of scientific methods and the possibility of a prejudiced position of science we can conclude that the objection that science leads to an experience of true knowledge is invalid. 

 As a conclusion I can say that I have been reasoning toward the thesis that you can never experience the truth. In order to do so I explained what ‘truth’ is according to Martin Heidegger. After that I provided two arguments that supported my thesis. The first one was the argument that our mind uses language to interpret our perceptions and that language has its boundaries. My second argument was that language is based on prejudices and common concepts and therefore it can never be a genuine translation of perception. Then I discussed the objection of scientific truth and  invalidated it. Because of this reasoning I can state that you can never experience the truth because  when you experience something you always have an incomplete and biased translation of the phenomenon that was the truth on that moment.

1 Heidegger, M. (1927), P29 2 Heidegger, M. (1927), P29 3 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P82 4 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P88 5 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P88

6 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92 7 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P85 8 Grondin, J. (1995), P2 9 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92 10 Gadamer, H.G. (1972), P92

Gadamer. 1972. Semantics and Hermeneutics. 1972. pp. 82-94.
Grondin, Jean. 1995. From Metaphysics to Hermeneutics. Sources of Hermeneutics. 1995, pp. 1-18.
Heidegger, Martin. 1927. The phenomenological method of investigation. Being and Time. 1927, pp.

To what extent should Ritalin be accepted in education?

From the 1960s until now, there is a growing population of children that are diagnosed with ADHD. Ritalin is the number one medicine that is prescribed to people with this diagnosis. These children all have education at a certain level and therefore Ritalin is a form of medication that is, after an official diagnose, an accepted enhancement in education. In this essay I will argue that if we accept Ritalin as an enhancement for students diagnosed with ADHD we should accept it as an enhancement for all students. To explain my statement I will start with a definition of the concepts ADHD and Ritalin. Then I will explain why Ritalin is an enhancement. After that I will explain three arguments that support my claim. Then I shall raise an objection which I will refute. After that I will conclude that the acceptation of Ritalin for ADHD diagnosed in education means that it should be an accepted enhancement for all students. ADHD and the prescription of Ritalin also has effects in other settings than education, but I shall not focus on those settings in this essay.

As a start I would like to give a workable definition on the different concepts that are introduced. For ADHD I will use the definition of Michiel Lambalgen (2008). He states that “ADHD is a psychiatric disorder characterised by persistent and developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity” (Lambalgen, Kruistum, & Parigger, 2008, p. 467). This means that ADHD has a wide scope and that the definition consists of a number of characterizations. There is no hard definition but this is workable as it is not this essay’s goal to argue if ADHD exists or not. Secondly the medicine Ritalin. In an essay of Bas Olthof (2013) he states that Ritalin is a medicine that is often prescribed to ADHD patients, it has methylphenidate as active substrate and it is said to enhance concentration (Olthof, Peeters, Schelle, & Haselager, 2013, p. 118). Toby Miller (2003) adds that It does so by replicating the function of neurotransmitters in arousing the nervous system (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 22).

Ritalin, an enhancement?
This still leaves the question if the use of Ritalin by people who are diagnosed with ADHD is considered to be an enhancement. Something is considered to be an enhancement when usage improves human functioning beyond what is necessary to restore health. Health is determined by what other people of a similar age and gender can do. Focus and concentration is hard for all people who attend a form of education that does not fit them. For example when they should get a less theoretical form of education. Concentration is also hard when a subject is not of a person’s interest or when the level of education is too high. So problems in concentrating are the average. Ritalin is used to improve concentration in these situations so that people can attend the theoretical, not interesting or higher form of education. Therefore it is an enhancement.

Subjective diagnosis
Now that there is a workable definition for both ADHD and Ritalin and a proper explanation why Ritalin is considered to be an enhancement, I can explain my first argument. This is about the fact that subjective observations are used to diagnose ADHD. ADHD has a very wide scope which is based on characteristics. It has to be diagnosed by a doctor. According to Miller (2003) he does so by asking information on different people around the patient such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers in order to determine whether the symptoms are present for six months in at least two of the patient’s social settings (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 22). But this information is not observed primarily, as there is a good possibility that the symptoms do not appear in the doctor’s office. Meaning that this information is already subjective. Furthermore, families are not the same. Whether the symptoms appear in the social setting of a family also depends on the family itself. When a family, and therefore also the patient, lives a very active life with lots of outdoor activities it is much less likely that symptoms appear than when a patient and his family have a more passive life. For example, ADHD characteristics are less likely to appear when a common family activity is cycling then when it is reading books. The same reasoning applies on the social setting of school. Whether or not the symptoms appear depends on the type of education. In a very theoretical learning path it is more likely that ADHD symptoms appear than when school has a very practical content. This means that ADHD and the possibility to use Ritalin is not always diagnosed on the same grounds, but students can experience the same problems when they have an activity that needs strong concentration.

Educational goals of enhancement
The second argument is based on the goals of using enhancements. Ritalin is not the only form of enhancement that is applied in education. A very common way to enhance students is the use of specialized educational programmes for students who need extra lessons or students who excel in certain ways. According to Olthof (2013) Schools and universities use these programmes because they think that all possible efforts should be made to develop students to their fullest potential. They want this fullest potential because it will increase a country’s economic position. These special programmes are allowed in education, while Ritalin is not even though they both serve the same goals. (Olthof, Peeters, Schelle, & Haselager, 2013, p. 124) According to Miller (2003) Ritalin provides greater obedience and focus to children not diagnosed with ADHD. Research proves that Ritalin has correlations with improved academic performance and better results at school (Miller & Leger, 2003, p. 23). This means that Ritalin also ensures the development of the fullest potential of students and therefore it will most likely also lead to an increased economic position of a country. So when specialised educational programmes are allowed as an enhancement and Ritalin is allowed as an enhancement for ADHD diagnosed students, both applied to reach the same goals as written above, the extent of acceptance to use this enhancement should be on the same level. So both enhancements should be accepted for all students.

The health-objection
An objection raised against allowing the use of Ritalin for all students is the danger for the user’s health. Miller (2003) says that Ritalin is known for the possibility of producing anorexia, but this ends when the user stops using it. It can also play a role in the development of tics, Tourette’s Syndrome and growth disorders, but all is related to the extent and the quantity of use (Miller & Leger, 2003, pp. 23-24). There are two arguments that can prove this objection to be false. Firstly, when we think that the use of Ritalin is too dangerous for people’s health, why do we think it is okay when it is used for people with ADHD in school classes, just to enhance their concentration? Especially when we take into consideration that you don’t need the highest form of education to live a happy life. There are enough other forms of education that can be attended without a high norm of concentration. For example, education that has a more practical content. Secondly there are a lot of things that we are allowed to use but have a bad health issue too. And most of the time they have a less important goal. For example a television in the bedroom. It gives a risk of sleeping disorders, but it influences the development of the people much less than Ritalin.

As a conclusion I can say that there are two arguments that support my claim. Firstly the argument of the subjective diagnose of ADHD, which enables an unequal use of Ritalin in education. Secondly the argument of reaching educational goals by using enhancements which compares another form of enhancement with the use of Ritalin and makes clear that they both serve the same goals. Then I raised an objection about the health risks on using Ritalin which I refuted. These arguments and this refuted objection support my claim that when we accept Ritalin as an enhancement for students diagnosed with ADHD we should accept it as an enhancement for all students. Based on the arguments above it is also possible to argue for full prohibition of Ritalin in education, also for people diagnosed with ADHD, but this also raises doubts on the existence of ADHD which was not the goal of this essay.


Lambalgen, M. v., Kruistum, C. v., & Parigger, E. (2008). Discourse Processing in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 467.

Miller, T., & Leger, M. C. (2003). A very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin. Journal of Medical Humanities, 19, 22, 23, 24.

Olthof, B., Peeters, A., Schelle, K., & Haselager, P. (2013). Applying the reasoning behind the development of honours programmes to other forms of coginitive enhancement. In If you’re smart, we’ll make you smarter (pp. 19, 120, 122, 124).


This essay was rated as an assignment for the Premaster Philosophy EBO @ Tilburg University

Debra Satz’ parameter of weak agency to define noxious markets has limited applicability because the scope is too wide

In our society, several markets have characteristics which make them undesirable. Debra Satz defines them as noxious markets. In order to measure whether a market is noxious, she describes the following four parameters. Extreme harms for individuals, Extreme harm on society, Vulnerability and Weak Agency. My claim is that the parameter of weak agency has limited applicability because the scope is too wide. At first I will explain the parameter of weak agency and my claim that it is not applicable. Then I will explain two arguments which support my claim that this parameter is not applicable. After that, I will conclude that the parameter of weak agency has limited applicability and should not be used to define whether a market is noxious.

Debra Satz describes her parameter of weak agency as “a market that is characterized by very weak or highly asymmetric knowledge and agency”.[1] Satz includes two interpretations of this parameter. ‘Firstly, the lack of important information by direct participants of the market. Secondly,  serious indirect effects on people who are not involved in the market transactions.’.[2] ‘She states ‘that the weak agency characteristic is always present in markets, but when a market has a high score on this parameter it should be defined as noxious. Even when there is no harmful consequence of that particular market.’[3]

My claim is that the weak agency parameter is not applicable because the scope is too wide. There are markets which we appreciate in our society while they score high on this parameter. These markets are not necessarily noxious because, when an individual on a market has a company as an opponent there will always be asymmetry in knowledge about products, consequences of the product and consequences of the company itself. So when we use the parameter of weak agency, all markets that involve companies are noxious. I will explain this trough a micro and a macro view.

Firstly, the micro view. When a company sells a product to an individual, the individual has no good reference about the price. They do not know what the costs for the product were, they cannot always compare the ratio of price and quality with other products of the same type, therefore they can’t define if the price of the product is reasonable. This asymmetry rises when the product becomes more complex or has a contract which bounds consumers for a longer time. For example, when a supermarket sells apples a consumer can compare the price with apples from other supermarkets because they can value the quality the products. Consumers still can’t say if the price is reasonable or artificially high, because they do not know what the costs or agreements of different supermarkets are. When a product becomes more complex, or there is a contract involved, the valuing part becomes more difficult. For example, an insurance. Consumers can’t properly value the quality of an insurance because, most of them don’t have the knowledge to understand the specific information that is present in insurances. Furthermore, consumers can’t predict the future, and therefore they don’t know to what extent they will need the insurance. Still, both of these markets are accepted and not necessarily noxious.

Secondly, the macro view. When an individual trades a product with a company, in a way that benefits the company, the individual doesn’t know which investments or lobbies he supports as a result of his trade. But this will only become problematic when the investments are wrong. For example, when a construction company invests in new machinery causing a more effective way of constructing houses, there is no problem It doesn’t matter if the agent, who bought a service of this company, has no knowledge of the investment that the company made and therefore unknowingly supports it. But when a bank invests money in arms trading in favour of a civil war, then it could be a noxious market. So on this level it’s not the weak agency parameter that defines a market to be noxious but the character of the company involved. So we can perfectly accept most of the markets have a high score on this level of the parameter.

As a conclusion I can say that both arguments are present in almost all markets which involve companies. Therefore these arguments support my claim that the parameter of weak agency is has limited applicability because it’s scope is too wide. It would define almost all markets with a company as an agent as noxious, but most markets are perfectly desirable in our society. Therefore we shouldn’t use this parameter to define a market as noxious.

[1] D. Satz, Why some things should not be for sale, Noxious markets, 2010, p. 96

[2] D. Satz, Why some things should not be for sale, Noxious markets, 2010, p. 96

[3] D. Satz, Why some things should not be for sale, Noxious markets, 2010, p. 97


This essay was rated as an assignment for the Premaster Philosophy EBO @ Tilburg University

To what extent does feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology successfully escape the ‘paradox of bias’?

Feminist philosophy started in the 1970’s and has developed itself into a subdiscipline that plays a major role in contemporary philosophy. It focusses on three subjects. The first, to criticize historical philosophical writings, the second, to criticize areas of contemporary philosophy such as epistemology and ethics, third, criticize patterns of imaginary and symbolism in philosophy. In this essay I’m going to be focussing on the second subject of feminist philosophy. I’m going to explain to what extent feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology successfully escapes the paradox of bias. Firstly, I will explain what analytic methodology is. Secondly, what feminist epistomology’s critique on this is. Lastly, I will explain the paradox of bias . Then I shall justify my claim that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. This justification will include arguments in favour of my claim as well as the objection that feminist philosophers raised against the paradox of bias.

It is hard to define the concept of analytic methodology because we should approach it with a wide range of philosophical methods. To be of use in this essay, it is enough to define the basic elements of what analytic methodology is about. For this we can use the claim of Ann Garry. Ann Garry states that “analytic methodology is the philosophy that has prevailed in English-speaking countries for most of the twentieth century, including the logical positivists, ordinary language philosophers, postpositivists and their myriad successors”.[1] She also adds Richard Rorty’s ‘clear and rigorous tools’ view. It says that analytic methodology has a stylistic approach. It values clarity in writing style and rigor in argument, and a sociological basis, the consideration of its philosophical ancestors and the philosophers that are read nowadays.[2] Furthermore she defines the method that analytic philosophers tend to use. They always start with, or against, something they can improve.[3] These claims combined make a workable definition for analytic methodology.

By means of a feasible definition of analytic methodology, we can analyse the critique that feminist epistemology provides us. According to E. Anderson, “Feminist epistemology studies the ways in which gender should and  undeniably influences our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification.”[4] Alison Stone and Ann Gary, both feminist philosophers, share their own interpretation on the influence of gender in analytic methodology. Alison Stone claims that philosophical methods have only focussed on reasoning, justice, rights, impartiality and moral rules. This focus reflects only the view point of a man’s experience.[5] In addition to that, Ann Garry revealed a method in which to measure the influence of gender in philosophical methods. Garry states that feminist philosophy required methods that could facilitate the full diversity of women.[6] According to her, there are nine viable questions suitable for determining whether a philosophical method achieves a minimum acquired defination for feminist philosophers. She applied her nine questions to the method of analytic methodology, which resulted in the  following deduction: ‘Analytic methodology is only partly minimally exemplary.  It can be useful within its scope but it could also be constraining. In limited ways it is minimally decent, in other ways it restrains, hinders feminists’ work. Analytic methodology makes one feel as if it’s possible unlock the right results. ‘Analytic tradition tries to overcome the objections of its critics, it has become more feminist friendly’[7] So the main critique of feminist epistemology towards analytic methodology is that it’s partially male biased and less acceptable for feminists.

Since we have discovered what feminist epistomology’s critique on analytic methodology is, the next step is to find out what the paradox of bias is. In order to find out whether the critique is able to escape the paradox, we will have to refer to Alison Stone. According to her feminist criticism of male bias or masculine attitude suggested that theories which are less biased should be incorporated. Yet it also seemed that one must have feminist views before one could begin to detect these biases.’[8] As you can see, there is a paradox in this because you need a bias to detect another bias. This is what’s called the paradox of bias

Now that there is a clear view on the different subjects of the thesis, I can argue towards the fact that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. It is possible to divide the analysis of the paradox in this critique into two levels, a macro-view and a micro-view of this paradox.
Firstly, the macro-view. The way in which feminist epistomoly critiques analytic methodology, is trough analytic methodology. As seen in the definition of analytic methodology above. It always starts with or against something that can be improved. This has a bias in it because it is stated that there should be an improvement in benefit of women.
Second, the micro-view, in order to determine whether analytic methodology is suitable for feminism, there is an analytic method of reasoning. Garry, for example, uses 9 questions to value analytic methodology. Garry uses the outcome of these questions to come arrive at a conclusion. This is method is a form of analytic methodology with reasoning, which was supposed to be associated with male gender. Nevertheless there is already a bias that states that an analytic method is an decent one. If that was not the case, Garry would never have used the analytic method. But this was the question for critique? So there is a bias in the use of method itself and therefore, the conclusion was already made before . These two claims can prove that the critique does not escape the paradox of bias at all.

A general objection that feminist epistemologists pursued against the paradox of bias, which can also be applied on my conclusion above, is the concept of standpoints. It argues,  men and women occupy different social locations whilst developing in different ways of seeing the world.[9] Women are usually unable to fully articulate their standpoint due to men possessing more power which therefore over rules their standpoint.[10] Therefore, women can only achieve their own standpoint if they struggle against the male dominated character of society.[11] There are a few problems regarding this objection. At first, it claims that there is a male bias which ensures that male standpoints prevail to female standpoints. But sophistication and education is mostly done by women, it is one of those social locations in which women tend to operate according to the standpoint theory. By nurturing and education they are a fundament of our society and have great opportunities to articulate their standpoint. Secondly, Stone provides us with the argument that the standpoint concept could be argued because the vast majority of people who act oppressively in some ways are oppressed in others.[12] Stone questions if all women share a common standpoint or position of oppression.[13] The view of black feminism underlines Stone’s criticism on standpoints. They claim that a common social position, being dominated by men, overlooks the differences of woman, especially the dominance of white women.[14] These two problems concerning the standpoint theory ensure us that is not a proper objection against the paradox of bias in the feminists critique.

As a conclusion I can say that I have been reasoning toward the thesis that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. In order to do so, I defined the different subject of the thesis, such as analytic methodology, the paradox of bias, feminist epistemology and its critique. Using these definitions I could explain my reasoning towards my thesis. Then I raised  a serious objection, but also explained why we should not take it into account. So I can successfully claim that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias.

This essay was graded for the contemporary philosophy premaster course at Tilburg University





[1] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 10.

[2] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 10.

[3] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 11.

[4] E. Anderson, Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, 2017, P1

[5] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.20.

[6] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p.8.

[7] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p.23

[8] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[9] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[10] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[11] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[12] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[13] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[14] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.15.

Why and how is ‘The Ailing Violinist’ a thought experiment and to what extent is it successful?

In philosophy, as in science, the use of thought experiments is a well-known method for drawing conclusions that we can apply in the real world. Much is published about the success of using thought experiments. The use of thought experiments can be a useful and valuable analytic method  in ethical philosophical cases. We can use them as examples for formatting an opinion or make a choice in similar situations of everyday life. Thomson’s thought experiment ‘The Ailing Violinist’ is a good example of a thought experiment that has influenced opinions in our society. In this essay I will explain her experiment and show why I think this is a thought experiment and why I think it is a successful one.

The definition of thought experiments I’d like to use is given by T.S. Grendler. Thought experiments are situations that are imaginary, that can be actual or hypothetical and that can teach us how we could respond in that situation, or similar situations, in real life.[1] They can be hypothetical, situations that could obtain in real life, or counterfactual so that you immediately know it is imaginary. [2] Each thought experiment can be characterized by the following structure:

  1. An imaginary scenario is described.
  2. An argument is offered that attempts to establish the correct evaluation of the scenario.
  3. This evaluation of the imagined scenario is then taken to reveal something about cases beyond the scenario.[3]

Not all thought experiments are the same, even though they meet the structure for a mode of reasoning given above. Grendler makes a distinction in three types of thought experiments. The first one is called the factive thought experiment. It concerns what we think the facts of a situation would be and therefore it is often used in science. The second one is called conceptual. It features the proper application of concepts. It is mostly used in metaphysics and epistemology. The third type is valuational, concerning the proper moral of aesthetic response to a situation. It is used in ethics and aesthetics. [4]

Now that we have got a definition of thought experiments, we can figure out how the experiment of Thomson’s Ailing Violinist works and see if it is a proper thought experiment. Suppose you wake up one morning and you find yourself in a bed, circular connected with a famous unconscious violinist. He has a fatal kidney ailment and the Society of Music Lovers had searched in all medical records to find out that you are the only one with the right blood type to help him survive. They kidnapped you and plugged his circulatory system into yours. Now your kidneys can be used to extract poison from his blood, as well as your own. You should stay connected for nine months because he is then cured, unplugging earlier would kill him. Do you accept this situation? Is it morally the right thing to do because all persons have a right to live? And what if this connection should be there for longer, or for the rest of your life? Does that change the argument that all persons have the right to live? Thomson claims that, assuming the fetus is a person, abortion can still be morally justified sometimes. [5]

Now that we know the content of the case, I am able to explain why I consider it to be a proper thought experiment. To begin with complies to the complete characterisation as given by Grendler. At first an imaginary scenario is described, you should imagine that you are kidnapped and, after that, connected with the violinist. Second, the argument offered for a proper evaluation of the scenario is there. You are kidnapped, unwillingly connected to the violinist and if you want to quit the situation, someone dies. That is a situation that nobody desires. The third characterisation, the evaluation that reveals something about cases beyond the scenario, is that people have the right to decide over their own body. Self-determination and ‘the right to live’ are the most important values here, because you shouldn’t be forced to use your own body for saving the life of someone else at all costs.
Furthermore the scenario is hypothetical. Being kidnapped is something that can happen, as is medical use of your body in favour of another person.
The case also fits perfectly in the valuational distinction that Grendler describes. We can learn what values are the most important in this scenario and therefore use this case as an argument in similar cases such as abortion or organ donation issues.

Now that we can agree that the scenario of the ailing violist is actually a thought experiment, the question rises if it is a successful one. To find out if this particular experiment was a success, we should first know how to divide successful and unsuccessful thought experiments. J.Y Goffi and S. Roux state that in order to have a successful thought experiment, two hypotheses are important. At first laws of nature should be preserved.[6] Second, we should come to rightful conclusions due to our intuition. In their theory, intuition is understood as an hierarchy of different assumptions, based on reality that are made due to the scenario.[7] When the assumptions are made, reasoning makes it possible to reject a number of assumptions and gives us the most reasonable assumption as the conclusion. [8] When an experiment can meet up to these hypotheses, it is a successful experiment.
For the Thomson experiment we can state that the laws of nature are preserved as we had already claimed that it was a hypothetical scenario. That leaves us with the part of reasoning to the conclusion. Thomson’s opponent claim the following:

  1. A woman has autonomy on her own body.
  2. A person’s right to life is stronger than another person’s right to autonomy.
  3. A fetus is a person.
  4. An abortion performed in the name of autonomy gives more weight to weak rights

Due to these assumptions they claim that an abortion is morally wrong and may therefore not be performed. Thomson’s experiment shows that we should reject assumption 2 because of equivocation. What do we mean when we speak of the right of life? Is that the right not to die, or the right to be supported in living you’re life. The last version includes autonomy. That leaves assumption number 1, on which both sides will agree. Assumption 3, on which both sides also agree because of factual argumentation. And 4 can’t be taken into account when assumption 2 is rejected. That assures us that assumption 1 is the conclusion of the experiment and the leading argument in cases that go beyond the scenario.[9]

Of course, there are also some objections. The most important one is that the experiment states that there is an analogy between a fetus connected to its mother, and an ailing violinist connected to a complete stranger. But it is not necessarily an issue because it is an imaginary scenario and we don’t have to take everything into account. The experiment is used to extend the discussion in ethical and legal rights, the right to life in particular, and therefore we can easily reject psychological and affective relations.[10]

As a conclusion I can say that I have been reasoning to state the claim that the Thomson experiment of the ailing violinist is a successful thought experiment. At first I explained the definition of a thought experiment, and the scenario of Thomson’s scenario. Due to these explanations I could conclude that the Thomson experiment was in fact a proper thought experiment. Then I argued to what extent the experiment was a successful one. I described parameters that could be used to measure the success of an experiment and applied it to the case of the ailing violinist. It turned out that the scenario was a success, but it raised one serious objection. The analogy of the violinist and the fetus was an objective assumption but it could reasonably be excluded from the discussion. Therefore, I can claim that ‘The Ailing Violinist’ is a successful thought experiment.

[1] T.S. Grendler, Thought experiments: On the power and limit of imaginary cases, p14 – 17

[2] T.S. Grendler, Thought experiments: On the power and limit of imaginary cases, p14 – 17

[3] T.S. Grendler, Thought experiments: On the power and limit of imaginary cases, p14 – 17

[4] T.S. Grendler, Thought experiments: On the power and limit of imaginary cases, p21 – 25

[5] J. J. Thomson, A defense of abortion, 1971

[6] J.Y Goffi & S. Roux, Thought Experiments in Historical and Methodological Contexts: On the very idea of a thought experiment, P167 – 170

[7] J.Y Goffi & S. Roux, Thought Experiments in Historical and Methodological Contexts: On the very idea of a thought experiment, P167 – 170

[8] J.Y Goffi & S. Roux, Thought Experiments in Historical and Methodological Contexts: On the very idea of a thought experiment, P167 – 170

[9] J.Y Goffi & S. Roux, Thought Experiments in Historical and Methodological Contexts: On the very idea of a thought experiment, P177

[10] J.Y Goffi & S. Roux, Thought Experiments in Historical and Methodological Contexts: On the very idea of a thought experiment, P179


This essay was an assignment for the premaster EBO at Tilburg University