The Happiness Box
These Discussion Forums are an opportunity for us to be “doing” philosophy. The first time an individual tries to argue about issues he or she has rarely or never before discussed, the result may be awkward, clumsy, and frustrating. That is OK.
Often we think that we do not have a particular view on a subject, but once we state our position and begin to discuss it, we realize that we have a very definite view. But, we still may not have good reasons for believing it.
The way to explore your views and make them genuinely your own is by working with your views through reflection, stating them, publicly defending them, and committing yourself to them.
That is the point behind philosophical discussions in general; they to teach us how
- to think about, articulate, and argue for the things we have come to believe in,
- to clarify and perhaps revise our views, and
- to present them in a clear and convincing manner to other people.
Very often, therefore, philosophy proceeds through disagreement, as when two philosophers or philosophy students argue with one another. But, polite differences of opinion are a good thing in the Discussion Forums. The key, however, is using politeness to cool down a discussion before it becomes over-heated.
Someone else may offer an argument which causes you to rethink your position and possibly even change your mind. Or, you may find that you have better reasons for being committed to your view than you originally thought and can share your new evidence with classmates who still are not sure about their own positions.
As we are ”doing” philosophy here in the Discussion Forums, the practical aspect is that we will learn more about ourselves and what we believe.
Some important rules to follow:
- There will be no Ad hominems (attacks against the person); not following this rule may result in failure of the assignment. You can disagree with a person’s opinions, but you may not attack other people. You may, however, disagree with the ideas of others, but do so in a constructive manner. For example, you can say, "I don't agree with your post. I think instead that . . . " But, you cannot say, “You’re an idiot” or even “That’s just plain stupid.” Academia requires a diversity of opinions but presented politely; after all, ethics is part of Philosophy.
- Avoid making statements meant to be absolute (such as, "There is no other way to think about this"). Instead of asking closed-ended questions looking for a “yes” or “no” or the “right” answer, ask open-ended questions (such as, “Have you thought about . . . ?”)
- Try to connect the current discussion to topics from other lessons. Remember that all of the Philosophers wrote about more than a single topic and the way they think about one area of Philosophy probably affects other areas as well. For example, it might be extremely useful to mention John Stuart Mill’s ethical theories from an earlier lesson during a later discussion of his support for women’s rights and equality.
- Rather than simply reacting to the readings and the responses of your classmates, think about the arguments being made. Really consider the effectiveness of these arguments. “I agree” responses are not useful to the discussion and will not receive credit.
Give some serious consideration to the topic or scenario before answering; and, then, using the questions below as a guide, write a 75-100 word initial response about the issue being discussed. Next, please take the time to respond to at least two of your classmates.
Engineering students at Grantham University have developed an exciting new machine—a box with some electrodes and a life-support system—which we call the “Happiness Box.” Only students in specific courses are invited to take advantage of this unique opportunity to participate, and we are inviting you to try it.
If you choose to get in the box, you will experience a powerfully pleasant sensation, which will continue indefinitely with just enough variation to keep you from getting too used to it. Additionally, you are not giving up your free will; if you later decide to do so, you can get out of the box any time you want to return to your previous lifestyle. It should be mentioned, however, that no one so far, once they have gotten into the Happiness Box, has ever wanted to get out of it.
After ten hours or so in the box, we hook up the life-support system, and people spend their lifetimes there. Of course, they never do anything else, so their bodies tend to resemble half-filled water balloons after a few years because of the lack of exercise. But that never bothers them either; they are so happy that their physical appearances and other superficial concerns no longer matter to them.
Finally, we also want to assure you that while you will not know they are there, your family will be able to visit your Happiness Box any time they miss you. We also would like to dispel any possible notions about machines trying to take over the world and creating a false reality for all human beings; that was a fictitious theme in a popular science fiction movie—which, incidentally, was written by people who were interested in and inspired by Philosophy.
Now, it is your decision, and we would like you to be very specific as you either accept or reject this opportunity.
- Would you like to accept the invitation and step into the Happiness Box?
- Explain your primary reason for accepting or rejecting the invitation to join the Happiness Box project.
- If you are accepting it, explain why you are likely (or not likely) planning to stay longer than 10 hours. (We need this information in order to make sure we have everything ready to set up the life support system.) Incidentally, what time will you be arriving?
- If you are rejecting the invitation, what additional information or considerations would you need to eliminate your apprehensions in order to accept this invitation?