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Ethics: Hedonism and The Experience Machine

What makes our life go best? Is being happy all that matters? Is a life of blissful ignorance a good life? Or is there more to a good life than this? Richard Rowland discusses whether we should take the blue pill in 'hedonism and the experience machine’.

Speaker: Dr. Richard Rowland, Departmental Lecturer, Somerville College, University of Oxford

 

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  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    I am not a proponent of hedonism, but I find the argument here against it to be weak.

    At Professor Rowland says, "But this seems wrong to us." That's not proof; that's his opinion. I won't ever be a world class actor or athlete; but the experience of feeling as though I am could be a positive one. I have a wife and a child and am glad that I do. But wouldn't someone who couldn't have a child be happier with the feelings that came with having one, than never knowing the feeling. In a somewhat scary future world, a person could experience what it would be like to have a family as a trial period prior to decide to engage in the experience for real.

    He ends by opting against hedonism but only because he says so. I'd like to hear a stronger argument from the professor. What does he have to say?
    (38 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Wudaifu
      I agree completely. At the end of the video, statement 2 contradicts statement 1 without giving a shred of evidence, explanation, or rational argument and then draws the conclusion that statement 2 is correct. It seems to me to be similar as saying: 1) Belief "X" states that it is better for us to do "A" than to do "B". 2) But it IS better for us to do "B". Therefore, Belief "X" is false.
      (18 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Jimjesser53
    I think that useing the "machine" would be like cheating. Not having made the required sacrifices to obtain the experiance. Therefore much less satisfying. Not sure if this matters to the argument.
    (7 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Josh Brooks
    Am I the only one here who wouldn't hesitate to hook into the machine?
    (6 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Randy
    Willingly entering into a fictional reality in which you intend to lose track of the illusion would be immoral and dishonest. All good done for the sake of others would be meaningless as there are no conscious others benefiting. All the self sacrifice made to bring a child into the world and raise them would be empty. The machine is an extreme example of wish thinking which any honest intelligent person should want to avoid like a plague.

    However, If there were a person who truly only cared about themselves and who only saw others as means to their ends, I think the machine would be a great place for them. Psychopaths, corrupt politicians & unscrupulous CEOs come to mind.

    Can anyone find reason to object to my first assertion?
    (0 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Tejas
      While it is true that people would wish to avoid the experience machine, what if you turned it around and instead were told that you are already in the experience machine, and your entire life has actually been an illusion, and no conscious person has ever benefited from your kindnesses. But it still is nice here. Would you wish to leave it?

      If you are like most people, then you would decline to leave, not because you only care about yourself, but because you would like to keep things the same as they already are. That's really the same reason that people avoid the machine in the first place.
      (9 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user TheLoneWolfShepherd
    The comments made by @donsspa and @Wudaifu sum up the flaw of the argument as it was presented in this video.

    I am relatively new to Khan but I must say that this is the first time I had to stop, shake my head and think to my self "what just happened there"

    In my opinion this video should be removed and a new and improved video put up in its place.

    The logical fallacy here is to great to ignore. To quote Wudaifu "Belief "X" states that it is better for us to do "A" than to do "B". 2) But it IS better for us to do "B". Therefore, Belief "X" is false." That is just plain weak at best.

    At no point does the speaker go into whether or not we will ever leave the experience machine or anything of the sort. Think about it, if you could stay in the machine, indefinitely, then what difference would it make? It would be exactly like the film The Matrix.

    Point here being that perhaps if the speaker goes into more detail and explains things a bit better then maybe this example could be used and made to make sense but as it stands, this is not a quality argument.

    Thanks!
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ollyrennard95
    As much as I love Khan Academy, I must agree with other comments stating that the argument has flaws. If nothing else, arguments for why it is better to actually do somethings, rather than experience it, must be put forward. If the experience machine is indistinguishable, as such includes necessary suffering in order to triumph, then reality vs subjective experience are one and the same.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user http://facebookid.khanacademy.org/100001330967919
    Epicurus was also a hedonist, but het practiced an whole other form of hedonism. You couldn't compare the hedonisme mentioned in this episode with his livestyle, right?
    (3 votes)
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  • hopper cool style avatar for user ☣Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☢ Ŧeaçheя  Simρsoɳ ☢Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☣
    Was it just me, or did anyone else notice while talking about the experience machine @ draws the code from the movie "The Matrix", and then the "Blue Pill"? Am I projecting, or was that intentional?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user admin
      You are exactly right. The artist who animated the video wanted to demonstrate how philosophical concepts have permeated different parts of pop culture (even if the argument doesn't happen explicitly). The Matrix is a pretty great example of the experience machine in action. What is particularly nice about the matrix is that you get both sides of it (that is, one of the characters chooses to stay in the experience machine and endorse hedonism).
      (4 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Amelia Funches
    Isnt hedonism and what he asks a contradiction?
    (1 vote)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user alina
    One of the ways that you can easily choose the "real" experience over the experience machine is thinking about WHY you do the things you do. For example, one of the reasons most people (or at least me) do the things we do is because we want our actions to be a reality for those who are conscious of their own realities...a.k.a - the real people.
    (1 vote)
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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