Hedonism & The Experience Machine (Advanced Lesson)

ESL/EFL Level: Advanced (C1/C2)
Lesson Topics: hedonism, reality
Skill Focus: Speaking, Listening, Vocabulary
Approximate Class Time: 2 hours
Lesson Plan Download: hedonism-experience-machine-advanced-022024.docx
Lesson Overview:

  • After warm-up questions, students do a vocabulary pre-viewing activity to help them understand the following video.
  • The video is a 4:09 TED-Ed video of Robert Nozick's
    Experience Machine thought experiment, which he designed as a refutation of hedonism. Essentially, the video presents and then argues against the question of whether a life of only pleasure is worth living.
  • Next, after a listen, recall, retell activity, students complete comprehension questions, a vocabulary-matching exercise, and an activity where they make questions using the target vocabulary.
  • After a debate on whether a life of pure pleasure is preferable, students discuss the intrinsic goods in life. This is followed by four roleplays, covering topics such as a virtual reality experience machine, the value of blissful ignorance, and discovering that your father lived a life of lies.
  • As a unique feature, the lesson has a speaking activity that reviews the first conditional called "Ruin a Life".
  • The lesson also includes famous quotations related to the themes of the lesson. It then ends with a final vocabulary review and final discussion questions.

A lesson about Nozick's experiment machine.

ADVANCED (C1/C2) Lesson Plan on Hedonism & The Experience Machine


  1. In life, what activities or actions make you feel like you are really alive?
  2. So far, have you had more pleasure or pain in life?
  3. If you had unlimited money, would your happiness also be unlimited?

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- This lesson plan was created by Matthew Barton of EnglishCurrent.com (copyright). Site members may photocopy and edit the file for their classes. Permission is not given to rebrand the lesson, redistribute it on another platform, or sell it as part of commercial course curriculum. ChatGPT was used to generate answer keys and some famous quotations. For questions, contact the author.

Comprehension Question Answer Key

  1. Hedonism is the philosophical notion that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. A hedonist strives to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
  2. Nozick’s experience machine is a thought experiment designed to test whether hedonism, in its purest form, would still be desirable.
  3. The "catch" is that in order to experience continuous pleasure, one must permanently leave reality behind and live in a simulated world, unable to return to the real world or even know the difference between the simulation and reality.
  4. The example is meant to illustrate the potential conflict between experiencing constant pleasure (Betsy’s ignorance of the affair) and the value of living in reality (the importance of Betsy knowing the truth about her relationship).
  5. Betsy’s situation is similar to being in the Experience Machine because she is in a state of blissful ignorance, unaware of her partner's infidelity, which parallels the concept of experiencing artificial happiness while being disconnected from the actual reality

Vocabulary Answers: 1-indistinguishable, 2-head over heels, 3-in the dark, 4-traumatic, 5-intrinsic, 6-simulate, 7-better off, 8-the catch, 9-no-brainer, 10-blissful ignorance, 11-rendezvous, 12-tempting


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/health-68169082

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