Volume 40, 1998
Philosophy of Values
What Does Nozick’s Experience Machine Argument Really Prove?
Nozick's well-known Experience Machine argument can be considered a typically successful argument: as far as I know, it has not been discussed much and has been widely seen as conclusive, or at least convincing enough to refute the mental-state versions of utilitarianism. I believe that if his argument were conclusive, its destructive effect would be even stronger. It would not only refute mental-state utilitarianism, but all theories (whether utilitarian or not) considering a certain subjective mental state (happiness, pleasure, desire, satisfaction) as the only valuable state. I shall call these theories "mental state welfarist theories." I do not know whether utilitarianism or, in general, mental-state welfarism is plausible, but I doubt that Nozick's argument is strong enough to prove that it is not.