The distinctive method of philosophy consists in getting a clear conception of insoluble problems in their insolubility, then in contemplating those problems without anything else; fixedly, tirelessly, for years, without the least hope, in a state of waiting.He also says this:
What M'Choakumchild [in Dickens' Hard Times] finds in the child Sissy Jupe – and labours, indeed, to choke – is a natural propensity for open rather than closed deliberation. In analytic moral philosophy classes all over the world right now, that same propensity is being carefully drilled out of students by their tutors' expositions of trolley problems, cave problems, transplant problems, rescue problems and the rest of the usual applied-ethics diet of hard-case thought experiments. Few philosophers are explicit or self-conscious about this, but Peter Unger is:
Toward having the puzzle be instructive, I'll make two stipulations for understanding the examples. The first is this: Beyond what's explicitly stated in each case's presentation, or what's clearly implied by it, there aren't ever any bad consequences of your conduct for anyone and, what's more, there's nothing else that's morally objectionable about it. In effect, this means we're to understand a proposed scenario so that it is as boring as possible. Easily applied by all, in short the stipulation is: Be boring! [Peter Unger,(Oxford UP 1996, pp. 25–26].
Is this a good thing that we who teach philosophy are doing to our students? There seems to be a danger that what we are offering them is a training in the failure of their imaginations and of their natural human sympathies. The typical philosophical use of the “thought experiment” in ethics is not just not to take students of ethics in the same direction as they go in when they read fictional narratives, towards wide-ranging, lateral-thinking, unpredictable, creative explorations of the indefinite possibilities of human life and action. It is to take them in exactly the opposite direction: to channel them down an ever-narrowing modal funnel within which all possible readings of a schematically described situation except for one or two are remorselessly eliminated. This is indeed a training to which the injunction “Be boring!” is apposite. And the normal penalty for failing to be boring in the required way is the same for our students as it was for Sissy: it is a Fail.
There is much more besides this. All books should be reviewed so well.
I haven't read it yet, but Jakob Elster's "How Outlandish Can Imaginary Cases Be?" also looks worth reading. Here's the abstract:
It is common in moral philosophy to test the validity of moral principles by proposing counter-examples in the form of cases where the application of the principle does not give the conclusion we intuitively find valid. These cases are often imaginary and sometimes rather ‘outlandish’, involving ray guns, non-existent creatures, etc. I discuss whether we can test moral principles with the help of outlandish cases, or if only realistic cases are admissible. I consider two types of argument against outlandish cases: 1) Since moral principles are meant for guiding action in this world, cases drawn from other worlds are irrelevant. 2) We lack the capacity to apply our intuitive moral competence to outlandish cases. I argue that while the first approach is importantly flawed, the second approach is plausible, not because our moral competence is limited to cases from this world, but because we lack the capacity to imagine outlandish cases, and we cannot apply our moral competence to a case we fail to imagine properly.