Thought Experiment of the Day

If killing one person for his organs saves two dying patients in need of organ transplants, it is worth doing?  Thought experiments like this can be used during lecture to teach political theory.  The instructor presents a thought experiment that requires students to make a decision or respond.  Student vote live using polling technology, and their realtime results are displayed with a chart.  This allows the instructor to show the students' the distribution of their intuitions.

For example, during a lecture on utilitarianism, following explanations of theories of subjective and objective utility, students were asked to consider this thought experiment:

"Let us suppose that organ transplant procedures have been perfected.  Whenever doctors have two or more dying patients who could be saved by transplants, and no suitable organs have come to hand through 'natural' deaths, they can ask a central computer to supply a suitable donor.  The computer will then pick the number of a suitable donor at random; he will be killed so that the lives of two or more others may be saved." - John Harris, "The Survival Lottery"

Students were forced to vote on what they would do and results were displayed, sparking discussion.

For examples of this and other thought experiments and the outline for the lecture on subjective and objective utility, click below.

To see the types of technology available to facilitate this activity, click "Technology."

handout_lecture_15_2012.docx81 KB
collected_teds_2012.pdf20.67 MB