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):
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.
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.
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.)
Discuss with your peers:
According to virtue ethics, reflecting on the aims and goods essential to human flourishing (if there are any) can help us understand the virtues we need to fulfill those and the vices that would be detrimental, as well as the corresponding kinds of choices and behaviors. Reflect with your peers on what their account reveals about the virtuous life, whether that conflicts with some of the values and choices common in society, etc.
Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.
Thames, B. (2018). How should one live? Introduction to ethics and moral reasoning (3rd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.
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