A brief paper written by Harvard Professor Robert Nozick, arguing against the beliefs of Hedonism.

Nozick proposes a theoretical device in which people can voluntarily plug themselves into, and subject themselves to different experiences. Each person is given a choice of what they would like to experience (such as making friends or writing a great novel), and then enters the machine to experience these things. While in the machine, the user is unaware that they are there, and truly believes all of this is really happening. A person could preprogram a certain amount of their life beforehand, and then enter the machine to, in a sense, live it out in that way.

Nozick uses this model reject the reasoning behind the philosophy behind Hedonism, that being the only thing that is really “good” in life is pure pleasure in itself.

First, he believes that we have an innate desire to actually do certain things in real life, rather than just experience them. Perhaps the desire of doing a certain thing drives us to desire the sense of having actually experienced it.

Second, he believes that we might reject the machine because we have a need to define ourselves as a person, and plugging into this machine would make that impossible. He states that entering this machine eliminates any sense of true self, and leaves us without any way to build a certain character for ourselves.

Thirdly, he states that plugging into this machine limits us to man made perceptions and constructs, and prevents us from contact with any deeper reality. We become limited to what others have experienced, and are driven simply by the single-minded pursuit of pleasure.

By rejecting this machine and the principles behind it, we have essentially rejected Hedonism. If we have an opportunity to experience pure pleasure tailored specifically to our liking, and then choose to reject it, we have admitted to ourselves that pleasure is not the only intrinsic good in life.