This week our main discussion will focus on explaining and evaluating the theory of virtue ethics as discussed in Chapter 5 of the textbook. Your instructor will be choosing the discussion question and posting it as the first post in the main discussion forum. The requirements for the discussion this week include the following:
- You must begin posting by Day 3 (Thursday).
- You must post a minimum of four separate posts on at least three separate days (e.g., Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, or Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, or Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, etc.).
- The total combined word count for all of your posts, counted together, should be at least 600 words, not including references.
- You must answer all the questions in the prompt and show evidence of having read the resources that are required to complete the discussion properly (such as by using quotes, referring to specific points made in the text, etc.).
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Discussion: The Experience Machine
To ensure that your initial post starts its own unique thread, do not reply to this post. Instead, please click the “Reply” link above this post.
Please read the general discussion requirements above, as well as the announcements explaining the discussion requirements and answering the most frequently asked questions. If you are still unsure about how to proceed with the discussion, please reply to one of those announcements or contact your instructor.
Please carefully read and think about the entire prompt before composing your first post. This discussion will require you to have carefully read Chapter 5 of the textbook, as well as the assigned portions of Aristotle’s (1931) Nicomachean Ethics.
If you recall from Week 2/Chapter 3, John Stuart Mill (2008) defines happiness as the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, which means that happiness is very much a matter of how I feel “on the inside”. 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):
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.)
In the Ancient Greek world (the world of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, often regarded as the birthplace of philosophy) a “symposium” was a banquet held after a meal, an “after party” of sorts that usually included drinking, dancing, recitals and engaging conversations on the topics of the day.
For our purposes in this course, the Symposium discussions will not involve dancing, recitals or a banquet, but they will provide food for thought on current ethical issues and direct application of the ethical theory discussed in each of these weeks.
It is almost impossible these days to turn on the news or log onto social media without encountering a controversy that cries out for ethical discussion. For these Symposium discussions, your instructor will choose a topic of current ethical interest and a resource associated with it for you to read or watch. Your task is to consider how the ethical theory of the week might be used to examine, understand or evaluate the issue.
This week, you will consider how virtue ethics applies to a controversy, dilemma, event, or scenario selected by your instructor. It is a chance for you to discuss together the ethical issues and questions that it raises, your own response to those, and whether that aligns with or does not align with a virtue ethics approach. The aim is not to simply assert your own view or to denigrate other views, but to identify, evaluate, and discuss the moral reasoning involved in addressing the chosen issue.
Your posts should remain focused on the ethical considerations, and at some point in your contribution you must specifically address the way a virtue ethicist would approach this issue by explaining and evaluating that approach.
If you have a position, you should strive to provide reasons in defense of that position.
o ensure that your initial post starts its own unique thread, do not reply to this post. Instead, please click the “Reply” link above this post.
Please read the description above and/or watch the video explaining the symposium and its requirements. If you are still unsure about how to proceed with the discussion, please contact your instructor.
This week, we will consider how virtue ethics applies to the entertainment industry (broadly speaking).
Please watch or review your favorite movie. How is virtue displayed in any of the characters? Many movies often have an element of revenge woven into the story line. Is revenge a virtue or a vice?
Your approach to this symposium discussion can be a bit more open-ended than the main discussion, remembering that our main goal is to work together to identify the main ethical questions and considerations, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the reasons for different positions one might hold, and come to a better understanding of virtue ethics.