Monday, November 12, 2012

Julian Harding
MoL Survey Project

Reality is What You Make It

     For my interview I chose my roommate, an SMU student who prefers to remain anonymous. For the purpose of simplicity, let us call him “R”. R is twenty years old, male, and religion does not play a large role in his life. R is originally from Chicago, and though he has taken some philosophy classes, he has not studied it extensively.

Survey results:

1. B     5. B     9. B       13. B 17. A     21. A
2. B     6. C     10. B     14. A 18. B
3. B     7. B     11. A     15. B 19. B
4. B     8. B     12. A     16. B 20. B

     The first five questions of the list represent the importance of fundamental goods as being necessary for a life to go well according to the respondent. In this case, R responded to all five of the first questions with the answer [B]; it is possible that these lives are going well. This is evidence that R probably would not embrace the Objective List View, or at least the items we have identified as necessary. Also, R said that pleasure might add a lot to our lives even when the source is morally wrong. Paired with his response to Question 7 about Carlo's disability, this leads us to believe that R does not value morality so much.. R also thinks that being better at chess, all other things equal, is not better than a life containing lesser chess ability, indicating that no value is added from sports and games. He also responded that in neither case (Questions 9 and 10) is it better for Angela to be in touch with reality if it means causing her pain.
     In each question relating to Sisyphus, R believed that his life was meaningful whether or not he received the injection that makes him desire pushing the rock. He also responded that it would be better for Sisyphus to build a castle rather than receive the injection, signifying the importance of achievement in R's view of the good life. On the final question about Sisyphus, R said that Sisyphus' situation would be good for him if he were to receive the injection. This tells us that R might see a relationship between desire fulfillment and “the good life”. He also believes that glow worms do live meaningful lives. For R, the person who wants to be a master chef is living a better life than the person driven by morality, another sign that morality is not so important to him. R also responded that he would plug in to the experience machine, but would unplug in both cases (Question 18 and 19) in which he found out that he was already in the machine. He also chose to take the real vacation to Antarctica as opposed to the one produced by the Experience Machine. These answers are inconsistent in terms of showing how R views the importance of reality. Finally, he responded that Simeon Stylites was probably living a good life on top of the 60 foot tall pillar, choosing one of the non-relativist answers.

     According to his first five responses to the survey, it appears that R would reject the Objective List View, or at least the entire list of necessities that we have isolated in the survey questions (progress, self, autonomy, etc). When I explained to him the main idea behind the Objective List View, R said that a list “could not apply to everyone the same way because people have relative viewpoints about 'the good life' and what might be considered good by someone is not good according to someone else”. This is evidenced by his answer to the question about Carlos who does not have the same capacity for achieving the same level of morality as someone else. When I asked him about this, he said “Yes, because Carlos does not have the same capabilities, there are different standards for which the 'the good life' might apply to him”. R told me that he thinks of himself as a relativist, believing that the good life is different for everyone, and that the term “good” is relative in itself. Nevertheless, I found his answer to the last question to be surprising, given that he believed we should judge Simeon Stylites and that his life was probably a good one. The relativist would surely say that we cannot judge.
     The other intriguing part of the survey were R's responses to the questions about the Experience Machine. Based off his answers to Questions 18, 19 and 20, it appears that R values a connection to reality more than happiness produced in a virtual world. In each of these responses he chose to unplug or remain unplugged from the machine. However, this is not so straightforward given his response to Question 17, where he chose the option to plug-in to Nozick's original scenario, thus showing that reality might not be so important to R. I directly asked R about the importance of reality after he had taken the survey, and he said that “reality is however we define it to be and we cannot limit ourselves to saying that only one reality exists for all of us because our perception of events can be different”. Perhaps this is what R means when he thinks of relativism, in which case it seems more likely that he values the pleasure one gains from the experience rather than our assessment of how it relates to what we have personally defined as “reality”. His response to Angela's pain level in Questions 9 and 10 also reflect his opinion that knowing your place is not important enough so as to sacrifice comfort and pleasure in certain situations. This might be a case where the happiness from being out of touch with reality is significantly greater than the happiness she would receive from beingin touch with reality such that the benefit outweighs the cost for R. Perhaps the idea of “knowing your place” is tied in to R's opinion of the “relative reality” which is why he gives it such little value.
      If I were to sum it up, I would say that my roommate's theory of “the good life” most closely resembles the Desire Fulfillment Theory (DFT). Though he considers himself a relativist, the fact that he did not answer that we should not judge Simeon Stylites life in the last question makes me wonder if this is true. It seems more likely that the DFT fits his philosophy in that we live good and meaningful lives, like Sisyphus, if we are doing what we desire. Recognizing that we all have differentdesires to fulfill might be where he is thinking of himself as a relativist. It is rather clear that he rejects the idea of the Objective List View and it appears this would not change even if we added morality to the list given his response to Question 16 where he chose caring over morality. Overall, it appears that the importance of reality to R is highly circumstantial, the Objective View List is not the right approach for judging how well we live our lives, and our lives are meaningful even in the case of Sisyphus where he is carrying out an insignificant and hopeless task. My intuition is that his responses to the survey put him quite near the Desire Fulfillment Theorists. I decided not to home in on anything too generic like religion, sports, or disabilities with my roommate, since none of these play a huge role in his life. Instead, I examined his own assertion that he is a relativist to see if this was indeed true.I also found his responses to the various questions pertaining to the importance of reality particularly interesting since this was the area with the most inconsistency.

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