If You Like It, Does It Matter if It’s Real?

Philosophical Psychology 23 (1):43-57 (2010)
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Abstract

Most people's intuitive reaction after considering Nozick's experience machine thought-experiment seems to be just like his: we feel very little inclination to plug in to a virtual reality machine capable of providing us with pleasurable experiences. Many philosophers take this empirical fact as sufficient reason to believe that, more than pleasurable experiences, people care about “living in contact with reality.” Such claim, however, assumes that people's reaction to the experience machine thought-experiment is due to the fact that they value reality over virtual experiences—an assumption that has seldom (if ever) been questioned. This paper challenges that very assumption. I report some experimental evidence suggesting that the intuition elicited by the thought-experiment may be explainable by the fact that people are averse to abandon the life they have been experiencing so far, regardless of whether such life is virtual or real. I use then an explanatory model, derived from what behavioral economists and psychologists call the status quo bias, to make sense of these results. Finally, I argue that since this explanation also accounts for people's reaction toward Nozick's thought-experiment, it would be wrong to take such intuition as evidence that people value being in touch with reality

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Author's Profile

Felipe De Brigard
Duke University

References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Welfare, happiness, and ethics.L. W. Sumner - 1996 - New York: Oxford University Press.
In Defense of Happiness.Matthew Silverstein - 2000 - Social Theory and Practice 26 (2):279-300.

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