This week our main discussion will focus on explaining and evaluating the theory of virtue ethics as discussed in Chapter 5 of the textbook. Your instructor will be choosing the discussion question and posting it as the first post in the main discussion forum. The requirements for the discussion this week include the following:
- You must begin posting by Day 3 (Thursday).
- You must post a minimum of four separate posts on at least three separate days (e.g., Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, or Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, or Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, etc.).
- The total combined word count for all of your posts, counted together, should be at least 600 words, not including references.
- You must answer all the questions in the prompt and show evidence of having read the resources that are required to complete the discussion properly (such as by using quotes, referring to specific points made in the text, etc.).
Discussion: The Experience Machine
To ensure that your initial post starts its own unique thread, do not reply to this post. Instead, please click the “Reply” link above this post.
Please read the general discussion requirements above, as well as the announcements explaining the discussion requirements and answering the most frequently asked questions. If you are still unsure about how to proceed with the discussion, please reply to one of those announcements or contact your instructor.
Please carefully read and think about the entire prompt before composing your first post. This discussion will require you to have carefully read Chapter 5 of the textbook, as well as the assigned portions of Aristotle’s (1931) Nicomachean Ethics.
If you recall from Week 2/Chapter 3, John Stuart Mill (2008) defines happiness as the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, which means that happiness is very much a matter of how I feel “on the inside”. However, Aristotle (1931) holds a rather different view of happiness (or in his terms, “eudaimonia”).
One way that we think about this difference is to conduct a “thought experiment” in which we imagine that we have certain “inner” experiences, but outwardly things are quite different. One such thought experiment is provided by the philosopher Robert Nozick in his description of the “experience machine”:
“Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain…Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s actually happening…Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?” (Nozick, 1974, p. 43)
In the course of the week’s discussion, you will need to do the following (not necessarily in this order):
1. Engage with the text:
Using at least one quote from the assigned texts, explain Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia. Then, discuss whether Aristotle would consider someone hooked
up to the experience machine to be “happy” in the sense captured by that notion of eudaimonia.
2. Reflect on yourself:
If you had the chance to be permanently hooked up to the experience machine, would you do it? Explain your choice. For example, if you would not hook up, you may discuss the kinds of goods or aims that would be lost by hooking up, or you may discuss the core, essential features of your life (or of human life in general) that are undermined by being in such a state.
3. Reflect on human life:
Based on your response, do you think that we can describe aspects of a telos (in Aristotle’s sense) that applies to humanity in general, or at least most people? Correspondingly, could there be a difference between feeling happy and being happy? Do you think that people can be wrong about happiness? (Notice that this isn’t asking whether there are different ways in which people can find happiness; it’s asking whether some of those ways could be mistaken.)