Explain who (what) you are to a visitor from another planet.

1. Is there anything you would willingly die for? What?
2. If you had only a few minutes to live, what would you do with
them? What if you had only a few days? Twenty years?
3. A famous philosopher once said that human life is no more
significant than the life of a cow or an insect. We eat, sleep, stay
alive for a while, and reproduce so that others like us can eat, sleep,
stay alive for a while, and reproduce, but without any ultimate
purpose at all. How would you answer him? What purpose does
human life have, if any, that is not to be found in the life of a cow
or an insect? What is the purpose of your life?
4. Do you believe in God? If so, for what reason(s)? What is God
like? (That is, what is it that you believe in?) How would you
prove to someone who does not believe in God that God does
indeed exist and that your belief is true? (What would change
your mind about this?)
If you do not believe in God, why not? Describe the Being in
whom you do not believe. (Are there other conceptions of God
that you would be willing to accept? What would change your
mind about this?)
5. Which is most “real”—the chair you are sitting on, the molecules
that make up the chair, or the sensations and images you have of
the chair as you are sitting on it?
6. Suppose you were an animal in a psychologist’s laboratory but
that you had all the mental capacities for thought and feeling,
the same “mind,” that you have now. You overhear the scientist
talking to an assistant, saying, “Don’t worry about that; it’s just
a dumb animal, without feelings or thoughts, just behaving
according to its instincts.” What could you do to prove that you
do indeed have thoughts and feelings, a “mind”?
Now suppose a psychological theorist (for example, the late
B. F. Skinner of Harvard University) were to write that, in general,
there are no such things as “minds,” that people do nothing
more than “behave” (that is, move their bodies and make sounds
according to certain stimulations from the environment). How
would you argue that you do indeed have a mind, that you are
not just an automaton or a robot, but a thinking, feeling being?
7. Suppose that you live in a society in which everyone believes that
the earth stands still, with the sun, the moon, and the stars revolving
around it in predictable, if sometimes complex, orbits. You object,
“You’re all wrong: The earth revolves around the sun.” No one
Chapter 1–Philosophical Questions30
agrees with you. Indeed, they think that you’re insane because
anyone can feel that the earth doesn’t move at all, and you can see
the sun, moon, and stars move. Who’s right? Is it really possible
that only you know the truth and everyone else is wrong?
8. “Life is but a dream,” says an old popular song. Suppose the
thought were to occur to you (as it will in a philosophy class) that
it is possible, or at least conceivable, that you are just dreaming
at this moment, that you are still asleep in bed, dreaming about
reading a philosophy book. How would you prove to yourself that
this is not true, that you are indeed awake? (Pinching yourself
won’t do it. Why not?)
9. Describe yourself as if you were a character in a story. Describe
your gestures, habits, personality traits, and characteristic word
phrases. What kind of a person do you turn out to be? Do you
like the person you have just described? What do you like—and
dislike—about yourself?
10. Explain who (what) you are to a visitor from another planet.
11. We have developed a machine, a box with some electrodes and a
life-support system, which we call the “happiness box.” If you 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. We invite you to try it. If you
decide to do so, you can get out of the box any time you want to;
but perhaps we should tell you that no one, once they have gotten
into the happiness box, has ever wanted to get out of it. After
ten hours or so, 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 beds after a few
years because of the lack of exercise. But that never bothers them
either. Now, it’s your decision: Would you like to step into the
happiness box? Why or why not?
12. Will a good person (one who does no evil and does everything
he or she is supposed to do) necessarily be happy, too? In other
words, do you believe that life is ultimately fair? Will a wicked
person surely suffer, at least in the long run? (If not, why should
anyone bother trying to be good?)
13. Do you believe that it is wrong to take a life under any circum-
stances? Any life?
14. Have you ever made a decision that was entirely your own,
that was no one’s responsibility but yours? (That is, it was not
because of the way your parents raised you, not because of the
influence of your friends or television or books or movies, not
because you were in any way forced into it or unduly influenced
by someone or by certain circumstances.)
15. Is freedom always a good thing?
16. Do you want to have children? If so, why?

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