The Experience Machine and the Experience Requirement

In Guy Fletcher (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge. pp. 355-365 (2015)
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In this article I explore various facets of Nozick’s famous thought experiment involving the experience machine. Nozick’s original target is hedonism—the view that the only intrinsic prudential value is pleasure. But the argument, if successful, undermines any experientialist theory, i.e. any theory that limits intrinsic prudential value to mental states. I first highlight problems arising from the way Nozick sets up the thought experiment. He asks us to imagine choosing whether or not to enter the machine and uses our choice (or rather the choice he assumes most people will have) as evidence against experientialist theories. But for this strategy to succeed it must be possible to distinguish between self-interested and non-self-interested reasons for declining to enter the machine, and there is no obvious way to do this without begging the question against the hedonist. In successive sections I then (a) consider a common misconception of Nozick’s conclusion (that he thinks machine life is the worst life), (b) consider different intuitions about what is important to well-being but missing from machine life, and finally (c) explain what “the experience requirement” is, and describe its relationship to debates about experientialist theories.

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Jennifer Hawkins
Duke University


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