“ experience machine ” thought experiment H u m a n i t i e s
(N.B. Please read instructions thoroughly before beginning to answer
Please select three (3) of the following essay questions, and respond to them in the form of a brief
essay of approximately 500-600 words. Make sure in each that you are not just stating your
positions on the questions, but giving the reasons or arguments that you think support those
positions, too. You will be graded not on whether you get the questions “right,” but on the quality
of your arguments. Do not do more than 3 – extra answers will not yield extra credit. Choose the 3
to which you can provide the best answers, and write on those and those only.
A few things to note:
This exam is entirely open-note. You are free to use any notes or course material to aid you
in developing your answers.
This is a take-home exam. You are free to turn it in at any time during the exam week. You
must turn it in before midnight on Friday, Dec. 4, however. To turn it in, simply attach
your answers to an email message to me, just as you have for past writing assignments.
Make sure that you avoid plagiarism – there is no reason for you to use outside sources to
answer any of these questions. You may make use of my lecture notes to help you
understand the relevant ideas, but be sure to reformulate things in your own words, just
as you would if you were sitting this exam in person in a classroom.
You should feel free to reach out to me if you have any clarification questions. I will try to
help you understand what the questions are asking as much as possible, but I will
(naturally) not give you direct help in answering them.
(Look at the next page to see the exam questions.)
Here are the possible questions:
- (1) Explain how you think a Kantian and a utilitarian would respond to the case of Baby
Theresa, discussed in Rachels’ “What is Morality,” pp. 1-5? (See Unit 1 for a PDF of this
reading.) Explain not just the position they would take, but the reasons and arguments they
would present for taking it.
- (2) What would John Stuart Mill think about Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” thought
experiment (from Unit 2)? Would Mill think that we should plug in to it, or not? What
would his arguments be?
- (3) Is Todd May right to think that Aristotle’s virtue ethics is also a form of “altruism” in his
sense? That is, does Aristotle’s virtue ethics demand a kind of selfless moral perfection of
us, as Kantianism and utilitarianism do?
- (4) What would a Kantian say about Todd May’s ethics of “decency”? On what key points
would the Kantian agree and disagree?
- (5) Imagine Peter Singer responding to Todd May’s claims about the ethics of charitable
giving. On what key points would he agree and disagree? (Look at Singer’s “Famine,
Affluence, and Morality” in Unit 4, and chapter 3 of May’s A Decent Life.)
- (6) Is this statement true or false? Support your answer with arguments: “None of the three
major theories is really true or false. They’re just different ways people might prefer to live.
The disagreements between them mean nothing more than the disagreements between
people about which is their favorite ice cream flavor, or pop song.”