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An Assessment of Recent Responses to the Experience Machine Objection to Hedonism

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  1. 1.

    See Dan Weijers, “Hedonism,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011).

  2. 2.

    See for example: Ben Bradley, Well-being and Death (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 9; Roger Crisp, “Hedonism Reconsidered,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 73, No. 3, (2006), pp. 619–620; Fred Feldman, Pleasure and the Good Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), p. 7; Matthew Silverstein, “In Defense of Happiness: A Response to the Experience Machine,” Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 26, No. 2, (2000), p. 279; Weijers 2011, op. cit., “Hedonism”; and Dan Weijers, “Intuitive Biases in Judgements About Thought Experiments,” Philosophical Writings, Vol. 41, No. 1, (2013), pp. 17–31.

  3. 3.

    See Alex Barber, “Hedonism and the Experience Machine,” Philosophical Papers, Vol. 40, No. 2, (2011), p. 257.

  4. 4.

    Examples of authors who have stated or implied that the experience machine thought experiment is a knock-down refutation of internalist accounts of prudential hedonism (or all internalist mental state accounts of well-being) are easily found. For example: Richard Arneson, “Human Flourishing Versus Desire Satisfaction,” Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 16, No. 1, (1999), pp. 121–123; Robin Attfield, A Theory of Value and Obligation (London: Croom Helm, 1987), p. 33; Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl, The Ethics Toolkit: A Compendium of Ethical Concepts and Methods (Wiley Blackwell, 2007), pp. 74–76; Lawrence C. Becker, “Good Lives: Prolegomena,” in Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred Dycus Miller and Jeffrey Paul (eds.), The Good Life and the Human Good (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 25; David Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 223–224; Sissela Bok, Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), pp. 24–28; Bengt Brülde, “Happiness Theories of the Good Life,” Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, (2007), pp. 26–29, 33; Stephen Darwall, “Self Interest and Self-Concern,” Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1, (1997), pp. 162, 178; Fred Feldman, “The Good Life: A Defense of Attitudinal Hedonism,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 65, No. 3, (2002), p. 615; John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 33; John Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1983), pp. 37–42; James Griffin, Well-being: Its Meaning, Measurement and Moral Importance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 9–10; Daniel M. Hausman, “Hedonism and Welfare Economics,” Economics and Philosophy, Vol. 26, No. 3, (2010), p. 329; Dan Haybron, “Happiness, the Self and Human Flourishing,” Utilitas, Vol. 20, No. 1, (2008), p. 21; Brad Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-Consequentialist Theory of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), p. 39; Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 68–70; Troy Jollimore, “Meaningless Happiness and Meaningful Suffering,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 42, No. 3, (2004), pp. 333–334; Shelly Kagan, Normative Ethics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998), pp. 34–36; Shelly Kagan, “Well-being as Enjoying the Good,” Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 1, (2009), p. 253; Antti Kauppinen, “How the Experience Machine Works,” Experimental Philosophy (blog) (2011), n.p.; Jean Kazez, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell Publishing, 2007) pp. 51–54; Simon Keller “Welfare as Success,” Nous, Vol. 43, No. 4, (2009), p. 657; Richard Kraut, What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-being (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 124–126; Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 13–14; Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), pp. 99–117; Peter Railton, “Alienation, Consequentialism and the Demands of Morality,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 2, (1984), pp. 148–149; Eduardo Rivera-López, “Are Mental State Welfarism and Our Concern for Nonexperiential Goals Incompatible?,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 88, No. 1, (2007), p. 75; David Sobel, “Varieties of Hedonism,” Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 33, No. 2, (2002), p. 244; L.W. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness and Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 98; Garrett Thomson, Needs (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 41; Valerie Tiberius, “Cultural Differences and Philosophical Accounts of Well-being,” The Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, (2004), p. 311, n. 4; Valerie Tiberius and Alicia Hall, “Normative Theory and Psychological Research: Hedonism, Eudaimonism and Why it Matters,” Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol. 5, No. 3, (2010), pp. 214–215; and R.N. van Wyk, Introduction to Ethics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), p. 109.

  5. 5.

    Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), pp. 42–43, his italics.

  6. 6.

    See Dan Weijers, “Nozick’s Experience Machine is Dead: Long Live the Experience Machine!” Philosophical Psychology (2013).

  7. 7.

    Nozick, op. cit., Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 43.

  8. 8.

    See Weijers, op. cit., “Hedonism.”

  9. 9.

    See Nozick, op. cit., The Examined Life, pp. 99–117.

  10. 10.

    See Dan Weijers, “The Experience Machine Objection to Hedonism,” in M. Bruce and S. Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments (Wiley Blackwell, 2011), pp. 92–107.

  11. 11.

    Kymlicka, op. cit., p. 13.

  12. 12.

    But see also Fred Feldman, “What We Can Learn from the Experience Machine,” in R.M. Bader & J. Meadowcroft (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 59–87; Kauppinen, op. cit., and Weijers, op cit., “The Experience Machine Objection to Hedonism,” for alternate constructions.

  13. 13.

    See Barber, op. cit.; Torbjörn Tännsjö, “Narrow Hedonism,” Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, (2007), pp. 79–98.; and Silverstein, op. cit.

  14. 14.

    See Kymlicka, op. cit, p. 13.

  15. 15.

    See for example Wendy Donner, The Liberal Self: John Stuart Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Feldman, op. cit., Pleasure and the Good Life; Chris Heathwood, “The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 133, No. 1, (2007), pp. 23–44; Rivera-López, op cit.; and Sumner, op. cit.

  16. 16.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

  17. 17.

    For a discussion of scenarios under which some people might plausibly choose to connect, see S.M. Cahn & C. Vitrano, “Choosing the Experience Machine,” Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Vol. 20, No. 1, (2013), pp. 52–58.

  18. 18.

    See Nozick, op. cit., The Examined Life, pp. 99–117.

  19. 19.

    See Harriet Baber, “The Experience Machine Deconstructed,” Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Vol. 15, No. 1, (2008), pp. 132–137.

  20. 20.

    See Tännsjö, op. cit., “Narrow Hedonism.”

  21. 21.

    Baber, op. cit., p. 134.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., p. 133, her italics.

  23. 23.

    Nozick, op. cit., The Examined Life, pp. 106–107, his italics.

  24. 24.

    Baber, op. cit., p. 133.

  25. 25.

    Crisp, op. cit., p. 636.

  26. 26.

    See Feldman, op. cit., “What We Learn from the Experience Machine.”

  27. 27.

    Sharon Hewitt, “What Do Our Intuitions About the Experience Machine Really Tell Us About Hedonsim?,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 151, No. 3, (2009), pp. 331–349.

  28. 28.

    Barber, op. cit., p. 269.

  29. 29.

    Jason Kawall, “The Experience Machine and Mental State Theories of Well-being,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 33, (1999), p 385.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., p. 385.

  31. 31.

    Silverstein, op. cit., p. 299, his italics.

  32. 32.

    See E. Sober and D.S. Wilson, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002). For a discussion of this argument, see J. Lemos, “Sober and Wilson and the Experience Machine,” Philosophia, Vol. 29, Nos. 1–4, (2002), pp. 401–409.

  33. 33.

    See Railton, op. cit., and Richard Brandt, “The Concept of Welfare,” in S.R. Krupp (ed.), The Structure of Economic Science (Prentice Hall, 1966), pp. 257–276.

  34. 34.

    Silverstein, op. cit., p. 296.

  35. 35.

    Ibid., p. 293.

  36. 36.

    Ibid., p. 293.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., p. 293, n. 42.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., p. 294, n. 47.

  39. 39.

    See Crisp, op. cit., and Hewitt, op. cit.

  40. 40.

    See for example G. Fletcher, “Wrongness, Welfarism and Evolution: Crisp on Reasons and the Good,” Ratio, Vol. 20, No. 3, (2007), pp. 341–347.

  41. 41.

    Cass Sunstein, “Moral Heuristics,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 28, (2005), pp. 531–371, p. 541.

  42. 42.

    J. Bronsteen, C. Buccafusco, & J. Masur, “Welfare as Happiness,” Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 98, (2010), pp. 1583–1641.

  43. 43.

    Jeffrey Goldsworthy, “Well-Being and Value,” Utilitas, Vol. 4, No. 1, (1992), pp. 1–26.

  44. 44.

    Adam Kolber, “Mental Statism and the Experience Machine,” Bard Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 3, Nos. 3–4, (1994), pp. 10–17.

  45. 45.

    Christopher Belshaw, “What’s Wrong with the Experience Machine?” European Journal of Philosophy, (2012), p. 3.

  46. 46.

    See Weijers, op. cit., “Intuitive Biases in Judgements about Thought Experiments,” and J. Mendola, “Intuitive Hedonism,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 128, No. 2, (2006), pp. 441–447.

  47. 47.

    Crisp, op. cit., p. 635.

  48. 48.

    See for example Kawall, op. cit., pp. 385–386; Mendola, op. cit., p. 450; Kolber, op. cit., p. 14; Bronsteen et al., op. cit., p. 1609; and Belshaw, op cit., p. 5–6.

  49. 49.

    Nozick, op. cit., Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 43.

  50. 50.

    See Hewitt, op. cit., and Weijers 2013a, op. cit.

  51. 51.

    Tännsjö 2007, op. cit., p. 95.

  52. 52.

    Torbjörn Tännsjö, Hedonistic Utilitarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), p. 112.

  53. 53.

    Tännsjö 2007, op. cit., p. 93.

  54. 54.

    See Belshaw, op. cit.

  55. 55.

    The one exception here seems to be Barber (op. cit., p. 263, n. 7), who claims that his undergraduate philosophy students were fairly evenly split (“52% non-enterers to 48% enterers”), although he implies that his data is not as credible as data from more formal surveys.

  56. 56.

    See also Dan Weijers, “Reality Doesn’t Really Matter,” in D.K. Johnson (ed.) Inception and Philosophy, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 92–107 for a scenario that addresses the issue of status quo bias using examples based on the movie Inception.

  57. 57.

    See Kolber, op. cit., p. 15; Felipe de Brigard, “If You Like it, Does it Matter if it’s Real?” Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1, (2010), pp. 43–57, pp. 47–49; and Weijers 2013a, op. cit.

  58. 58.

    De Brigard, op. cit., p. 47.

  59. 59.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

  60. 60.

    But, questions have been raised about the validity of some of these specific tests and of testing the experience machine in general (see B. Smith, “Can We Test the Experience Machine?” Ethical Perspectives Vol. 18, No. 1, (2011), pp. 29–51). But see also Weijers’ response to Smith (Dan Weijers, “We Can Test the Experience Machine: Reply to Smith,” Ethical Perspectives, Vol. 19, No. 2, (2012), pp. 261–268) for a defence of empirical tests of experience machine scenarios.

  61. 61.

    Weijers, op. cit., “Nozick’s Experience Machine is Dead: Long Live the Experience Machine.” p. 13.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., p. 14.

  63. 63.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this case.

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Weijers, D., Schouten, V. An Assessment of Recent Responses to the Experience Machine Objection to Hedonism. J Value Inquiry 47, 461–482 (2013).

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  • Good Explanation
  • Thought Experiment
  • Reality Matter
  • Experience Machine
  • Internalist Account