Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:07

Ethics: Hedonism and The Experience Machine

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, I'm Richard Rowland. I'm a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Oxford. I want to talk about Hedonism and the Experience Machine. Hedonism is a view about what things are good for us. According to hedonism, the only thing that is good for us is pleasure and the only thing that is bad for us is pain. One good reason to accept Hedonism is that if doing something doesn't give you pleasure or enable you to avoid pain, then it doesn't seem that that thing is good for you. Suppose that you've made a promise to a friend, but that keeping that promise wouldn't give you any pleasure at all. In fact, it would cause you pain. In this case, although it might be morally good for you to keep your promise, and because it's morally good for you to keep your promise, there might be some reasons for you to keep your promise, it doesn't seem that it would be good for you at all to keep that promise. The most serious problems that hedonism faces comes from a thought experiment. This thought experiment is due to Robert Nozick. Imagine that there is a machine, and you can get into this machine and experience doing whatever you want to do. And once you're in the machine, you won't know that you're only in the machine having the experience of doing what you want to do. Rather, you'll believe that you're in fact doing what you want to do. And so you can get into the Experience Machine and have the experience of being a fantastic actor or actress, performing in some amazing plays and winning lots of awards for your fantastic performances. You can have the experience of, the mere experience of being an author and writing the next great American novel. You can have the experience of being a world-class athlete. Now crucially, your experiences in the machine and actually doing these things will be indistinguishable. If you actually did these things, they'd feel just like they feel in the machine. And in virtue of this, you'll get the same amount of pleasure from having the mere experience of doing these things as you would from in fact doing these things. Now the question is, is it better for us to do these things outside of the machine or is it just as good for us to have the mere experience of doing these things? That is, is it better for us to in fact be a fantastic actor or actress, play lots incredible roles, and win lots of awards, or is it just as good for us to have the mere experience of being a fantastic actor or actress? Is it just as good for us to have the mere experience of being a world-class athlete or is it better for us to in fact be a world-class athlete? And is it just as good for us to have the mere experience of having a child, of having a family, or is it better for us to in fact have a child and in fact have a family? If hedonism is true, it's just as good for us to have the mere experience of having a child and having a family as it is for us to in fact have a child and have a family. But this seems wrong to us. It seems to us that it's better for us to in fact have a child, have a family, or say in fact be an actor or actress, and in fact be a world-class athlete, than it is for us to have the mere experiences of doing these things. We can put this into a more formal argument against hedonism. According to hedonism, it's no better for us to have a family or to be an amazing athlete than to have an illusion of having a family or to have an illusion of being an amazing athlete. But it is better for us to do these things than to merely have the illusion of doing these things and so hedonism is false. Subtitles by the Amara.org community