Tamler Sommers and I are embarking on a perilous pilot study in experimental philosophy, and we need your help to make it less fruitless than it might otherwise be! Unlike previous studies on folk intuitions about free will and moral responsibility that have focused on scenarios describing determinism, we would like to systematically explore how non-philosophers react to a philosophical argument about FW and MR, how they explain their responses to it, and how they try to resolve and explain any inconsistent responses they offer. In the pilot study we just hope to learn whether refinements of such studies could lead to valuable information and, if so, how to refine them, and we suspect in any case that we’ll get some interesting responses (as we all have experienced when we do such “studies” the normal way, by listening to our intro students).
We want to present our participants with something like Strawson’s Basic argument. This has turned out to be a painfully difficult task, mainly because the regress idea is hard to get across. But we seek your feedback about how any of what follows might be improved. We are fine with people telling us that we are being silly to even go down this path, but since we already know that, it won’t have much effect (though perhaps you will have some reasons why we are being silly that we haven’t thought of already). Suggestions about best to go down the silly path (which we are determined to go down—no forking here) will be more helpful.
Eddy and Tamler
Directions for taking the online survey, followed by this open-ended question:
1. When someone says, “She’s morally responsible for doing that” what does that mean?
People understand the idea of moral responsibility in several ways and you likely mentioned one of them just now. Sometimes people use the idea of moral responsibility to mean something like “moral obligation” (for example, we have a moral responsibility to help our friends). But for the rest of this survey, we want you to keep in mind this idea of moral responsibility: When people are morally responsible for doing something bad, they deserve blame (and perhaps punishment) for their action, and when people are morally responsible for doing something good, they deserve praise (and perhaps reward) for their action.
Another way to describe this sense of moral responsibility is this: When people are morally responsible for doing something bad, it is fair to blame them, or we should blame (or punish) them even if there would be no future benefit of doing so.
[7-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree]
2. Most people are morally responsible for some of their decisions and actions.
3. I am morally responsible for some of my decisions and actions.
Now consider each of these statements carefully and indicate whether you agree or disagree with them [Responses available are: ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I don’t know’, and ‘This statement does not make sense to me.’ If participants answers anything other than ‘yes’ we will ask them to explain why they answered that way.]
1. Your decisions are entirely the result of the situation you are in and the way you are at the time (your character, thoughts, desires, skills, etc.).
2. The way you are at any time is entirely the result of earlier factors that led you to be that way.
3. At some point (when you were a young child), all of these factors were entirely beyond your control (you had no control over your genes, your early upbringing, random things that happened to you, etc.).
4. You cannot be morally responsible for factors that are entirely beyond your control.
5. Since you were not morally responsible for these factors that made you the way you are, you are not morally responsible for the decisions that result from your being that way.
6. So, you are not morally responsible for any of the decisions you make.
If they agree with 1-5 but not 6 we ask them to resolve the apparent contradiction…
This argument is probably not formally valid as written and it may need another premise to get from 6 to 7, but every way we try to make it sharper makes it too technical or unclear. Needless to say, one of us believes this argument (as presented and in its more precise Strawsonian form) is unsound, while the other believes it is sound. But we hope to see what people who don’t have deep philosophical commitments or theories think about it, whether they will see any tension between accepting the premises of the argument and rejecting the conclusion, or whether they say anything interesting as they explain themselves. Thanks for your thoughts!