Nozick's Experience Machine and Hedonism Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1520 Words
Date:  2022-04-14

In this paper, I will argue that Utilitarians should not brand pleasure as the ultimate objective of life for all the effects of their actions. This essay will focus on the objection to the hedonistic values considering Nozick's 'The Experience Machine' thought experiment. This paper also discusses the relationship between Utilitarianism and Hedonism, and their fundamental dynamics. Besides, the meaning of the two concepts is given in the content. That being said, the primary objective of this essay is to defend and support the argument that pleasure is not the sole intrinsic good as affirmed by Nozick's theory.

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Firstly, Utilitarianism is a moral theory that proposes that action should be focused on achieving the "maximum pleasure for the maximum number of individuals." It is also known as the hedonistic universalism. On the other hand, the hedonistic theories identify pleasure as the sole intrinsic good. Hedonism comes from the Greek word 'hedone' which means pleasure. Hence, the claim that happiness is the only uttermost importance in life is what distinguishes hedonism from utilitarianism. Conversely, Robert Nozick disputes this claim through his theory of 'The Experience Machine.' It states that, presume there existed an familiarity machine that would give you any familiarity you preferred. Super-duper neuropsychologists could arouse your brain such that you can know-how the feeling you wish. You will be floating inside the machine for the rest of your life, with electrodes connected to your brain. The theory ends by the author asking if one would choose to plug-in for life and program his or her life experiences.

From the Nozick's theory, it is evident that certain things are crucial in our lives than merely having particular experiences. Additionally, Nozick provides three suggestions-we want to perform particular happenings and not just have the experience of having done them. He also suggests that we desire to be other people. That is, to plug into the machine to obligate a form of "suicide" (Barber, 2011). Lastly, he proposes that we are confined within the paradigms of human-created reality. In that sense, hedonism entails that we should plug-in in case pleasure matters most to us than other things. However, we would not want to plug-in. Thus, other things also matter apart from enjoyment alone. This example by Nozick is a simple dismissal of hedonism, in that it discredits any theory of value that focuses on the subjective mental states.

The question of whether to immerse oneself into the simulation tank is of significance to the would-be enterers. It deviates from two other related questions: one related to epistemology-Can you be aware that you are not plugged in? - And a hypothetical one-Are the experiences achieved in the machine similar to those of real world? The thought experiment isolates one crucial question. That is, do our internal feelings matter to us? Genuine hedonists will say yes. Nevertheless, they would not wish their loved ones, friends or related family members to plug into the experience machine. It presents some element of hypocrisy on the side of the genuine hedonists. It is evident that they prefer other things apart from happiness alone. This inconsistency helps to affirm Nozick's objection that pleasure is not the sole intrinsic good.

Similarly, a critical analysis of the thought experiment indicates that our desires are an actual connection with the real world. It is this association which is valuable to us, in that, we connect to reality by not just believing in its existence but through physical touch and experience. It is not that humans want direct and explicit external connection with reality but has the urge to explore and respond to authenticity. This need for exploration of and response to realism involves altering the happenings at a particular moment and creating new ones to suit one's longings.

That said, even though the Nozick's experience machine is widely recognized by most philosophers more than today, his argument is riddled with discrepancies. Consider the Mulgan's objective list theory which to some extent compromises Nozick's argument. The theory argues that neither pleasure nor preference satisfaction is sufficient for the human well-being (Mulgan, 2014). In that, some desires are good, others are bad, while some have a negligible impact on our lives. Consequently, most people would prefer to have an authentic as opposed to a fake experience. Life in the tank is too limited to shape our personality and experiences. Also, there are some preferences which are life-changing while others do not affect our lives. The preference theory dictates that it is essential to satisfy people's desire because what they value is worth. This supposition leads to the objective list theory. The objective list theory put forward by Mulgan proposes that both hedonism and the preference theory are subjective. To some degree, there are a few elements of the two approaches that embrace objectivity. For instance, hedonism suggests that pleasure is the most valuable thing in life, whereas the preference theory indicates that well-being relates to making the most of the preference satisfaction. The difference between Mulgan's theory and Nozick's argument emerges in the sense that, whereas the latter treats hedonism and preference satisfaction as separate items on the list, the former takes both as a single item. Mulgan's list contains the following; basic needs, achievement, knowledge, autonomy and freedom, religion, and fame and respect.

Conversely, Cahn et al. (2012) assert that it might be good for someone to choose life in the simulation tank. He argues that once someone is inside the experience machine, he or she won't be aware that the experience is fake. Another significance of this machine is that an individual can design his or her experiences to conform to those of the real world. Thus, people can become what they desire, and fulfill their dreams that would have otherwise been impossible in reality. Still, there are some concerns with the experience machine that would make someone, not to plug-in. For example, in the suggestions, Nozick states that a genuine hedonist would prefer simulation to reality. This assumption is very right considering an enthusiast in pleasantries. However, this postulation does not address other complicated forms of hedonism like the preference hedonism. This type sandwiches between consciousness profligacy and the inclination satisfaction self-gratification. Therefore, a preference-satisfaction hedonist would prefer not to get simulated, as this would not satisfy his likings, only to the attendance of pleasure. This compromise is not the concern of Nozick as the preference-satisfaction philosophies lack fundamental elements of hedonism.

Elsewhere in the text, Nozick asks 'Why to feel any grief at all if your result is the right one?' (1974: 43). He was addressing this question to those who prefer pleasure to other things, but would not be willing to plug into the experience machine. However, this intuition is narrow and fails to address the smallest efforts we put in to achieve maximum happiness. Though some genuine hedonists will choose to plug-in, most will experience the resistance, not to plug-in. Hence, this resistance indicates that the subjects are not genuine hedonists. For that reason, we can conclude that the experience machine to some extent is not a reliable test for the truth concerning hedonism.


This essay attempted to defend and affirm Nozick's argument that pleasure is not the ultimate good in one's life. This paper posed the question whether Utilitarians should embrace hedonistic values for all the effects of their actions. This work argues against Utilitarians adopting hedonistic principles since other things matter most to us apart from merely the happiness we feel inside us. Nozick supports this argument through his theory of the 'Experience Machine' experiment. This machine can transform us into being any person we wish. Nozick presumes that most hedonists would prefer not to plug into the simulation tank even though they claim to be genuine. One of the reasons for resisting the urge to enter the simulation tank is because the machine limits our experiences to artificial reality. Thus, inside the machine, there is no actual connection with the more in-depth fact. If we choose to enter the experience machine, we limit our experiences to a world not more critical than that inhabited by people. Conversely, the thought experiment stipulated by Nozick is not entirely reliable in studying hedonism. The theory does not consider the fundamental elements of the real world. For instance, most hedonist would prefer reality compared to virtual experiences. Tim Mulgan reinforces this argument through his objective list theory. The author asserts that neither pleasure nor preference satisfaction can satisfy our material wants. He argues that we should seek to fulfill our yearnings regarding how much they are valuable to us. Conversely, other authors like Cahn et al. say that the experience machine is feasible to some extent, and would prefer to plug-in so long as we can achieve the experience we yearn.


Barber, A. (2011). Hedonism and the Experience Machine: Re-Reading of Robert Nozick, 'The Experience Machine', in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York: Basic Books, 1974, pages 42-5. Philosophical Papers, 40(2), 257-278.

Cahn, S. M., & Vitrano, C. (2012). Happiness: Classic and contemporary readings in philosophy.

Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, Utopia and the state. New York: Basic Book.

Mulgan, T. (2014). Understanding utilitarianism. Routledge.

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