Saturday, April 2, 2011

Suppose Determinism, Understand Responsibility

How easy is it to beat the NYT's philosophical expertise? (Via) Takes some effort, as most worthwhile things do, but certainly not special talents. I'm not an experimental philosopher, but one doesn't need to be to answer these questions.

"In this deterministic universe, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for his actions?"
"This year, as he has often done in the past, Mark arranges to cheat on his taxes. Is he is fully morally responsible for his actions?"
"Bill falls in love with his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to murder his wife and three children. Before leaving on a trip, he arranges for them to be killed while he is away. Is Bill fully morally responsible for his actions?"

"But to the new breed of philosophers who test people’s responses to concepts like determinism, there are crucial differences, as Shaun Nichols explains in the current issue of Science."
It would be nice if either Tierney or Nichols could explain to me what philosophical work they expect to do with the fact that the layhuman is inconsistent and can't think in straight lines.
"His judges pragmatically intuit that regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does."
Ha! No.
"The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in other research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest."
I believe we've already established that layhumans can't think in straight lines. When subjects doubt free will, they also doubt all beliefs merely associated in their minds, they don't limit the doubt to the ones that actually logically flow from the issue in question. Several of these connotations could account for the results.

"Doubting one’s free will may undermine the sense of self as agent,” Dr. Vohs and Dr. Schooler concluded. “Or, perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes."
Apparently it isn't that difficult to outclass the NYT's reference psychologists at psychology, either.

I would say the most likely one is that experts, as spoken for by the NYT et al, keep saying that responsibility requires free will, and therefore most think responsibility requires free will. This is probably the relevant connotation for honesty.

For the jobs, start with the fact that the employed are good at their jobs for bad and broken reasons, and so a priori any random argument could reduce their performance. You can't assume up front these two things are actually related.

Hanson also embarrasses Vohs and Schooler,
"We are more willing to let folks off the hook because “my atoms or my brain made me do it” in far than near mode"
Emotionally responding to abstract things requires training. Getting the right answer to abstract problems also requires training. Your emotions generally get the right answer without training. The layhuman can't think in straight lines. The contradictions don't mean a whole lot; almost nothing if you want to predict behaviour.

"Does that sound confusing — or ridiculously illogical? Compatibilism isn’t easy to explain. But it seems to jibe with our gut instinct that Bill is morally responsible even though he’s living in a deterministic universe."
Compatibilism isn't easy to explain because nobody understands it, least of all compatibilists.

The reason is not complicated. If determinism, responsibility means something slightly different but has exactly the same consequences. We punish because it changes the decision faced by those considering wrong in favour of right. If determinism, we would punish because it would change the incentives faced by those considering wrong in favour of right. Ultimately, everything observable outside the subject is identical either way; 'responsible' just tags the correct person to punish so as to deter and prevent future wrongs.

The layhuman is not aware of this bit of polymorphism held by the idea of responsibility, explaining both the experimental link between free will and honesty, and the fact that Tierney thinks that responsibility doesn't exist without free will. Well...plausibly explaining. If X-phi wanted to do useful work, it could address this, though my policy of calling things by their right names demands I call the work psychology, not philosophy.

Similarly, X-phi could go work out the common bad reasons used to justify being diligent at your job, and thus predict what kinds of bizarre arguments could impact performance. That would be useful, but not philosophy. Psychology or perhaps specifically ideology-ology. (Officially meta-ideology, but I want to point out how silly the word 'ideology' is.)

"Dr. Nichols suggests that his experiment with Mark and Bill shows that in our abstract brains we’re incompatibilists, but in our hearts we’re compatibilists."
"Dr. Nichols suggests that experiments show what he hopes is true." Most likely because it makes him feel better for some bizarre reason. This normally isn't a curable ailment, so if a belief makes you feel better, quit fighting and hold it, just remember that nobody else need take it seriously.
"This would help explain the persistence of the philosophical dispute over free will and moral responsibility,” Dr. Nichols writes"
The actual reason is simply that both are false. Nobody has even bothered to check whether (determinism) + (free will) spans the entire space of possibility, making the whole 'x vs. y' debate a hilarious exercise in posturing. (You can tell they're both false because, for example, responsibility supposedly differs but has identical consequences, which would mean x contradicts y but is also indistinguishable.) Shockingly, I discovered that the first guess at the abstract truth, of a vintage more than two millennia old, is not correct.

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