[Note: This is primarily for those with analytic philosophers. For those of you with continental philosophers, the information below will be useful at philosophy gatherings, as you can ask an analytic philosopher to give you a thought experiment, which would make their whole day truly wonderful].
I’m not sure if continental philosophers do this, but my analytic philosopher loves sharing thought experiments. These sorts of thought experiments are not your typical, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound?” nonsense that non-philosophers undergrads throw around to try to look smart. Oh, no. These are like the following:
You are a conductor on a very heavy cargo train that is speeding along the tracks. Up ahead, the track splits into two sets of tracks; one veering to the east and one veering to the west. You can see that on the eastern tracks, a lovely, young woman is tied there against her will. But then, you see on the western tacks that ten lovely, young women are tied to the tracks, also against their will. You have no time to stop the train; you only have enough time to pick a track. Which one will you choose?
- - (Originally by Phillippa Foot, but jazzed up by yours truly).
My policy on thought experiments used to be that I would play along and answer honestly. There is one problem with doing this, though: this is a trap! Whatever you say will be immediately countered with a “well, what about this!” Then, before you know it, they fire another thought experiment at you, because philosophers have a hard time just doing one at a time.
It is very important for you to not let resentment about this trickery get to you, or you will become embittered and lash out whenever you are presented with a new thought experiment. Instead, it is more helpful to set up boundaries. Here are some of our boundaries:
(1) No thought experiments after 5:00pm, unless I am not expected to give any answers.
(2) The only case in which a thought experiment might be shared after 5pm and an answer will be given, is when permission to break rule (1) is worked out ahead of time (i.e. he sometimes asks to share them on date night).
(3) Limit thought experiments to one at a time unless I give permission for more.
(4) If any of these are broken, I have permission to shut down and refuse to answer.
This seems like a very selfish step to take, especially for you non-philosophers who have not been in a relationship of some kind with your philosopher for very long. Because some philosophers will never get over their love for thought experiments, though, it is important to talk about boundaries before you get tired of feeling stupid and trapped. It will happen! Philosophers are just so excited about this stuff. You have to rein them in a bit sometimes.