Monday, June 27, 2011

Serendipity I guess. The "Knobe effect" again.
And previously.

The older post connects the discussion to rationalism in philosophy and art. The one correction I would make to it would be to add that the meanings of words change not just over time but from one person to another. As I pointed out in my comment linked above, "Intention" is not the best word to use to capture the motivations for people’s response. It’s the word researchers chose and subjects used the words given them to describe their reasons only as best they could.

Questions of cause were translated by the subjects into questions of morality. That translation is performed every day in daily life. The structure of law is that intentions are secondary. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Intentions play a role only in punishment: it's the difference between murder and manslaughter, of degree not responsibility as such.

If by accident you invent something valuable people will give you less credit than if you'd worked to achieve it. They may even begrudge you your newfound wealth, but in the US at least they won't say it should be taken from you. But still the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. See the last post on Syria.

The really idiotic, morally sleazy aspect of the focus on intention is that it focuses on the desires of the actor, his sense of his own emotional state, his "sincerity", rather than the outcome. From the post.
Yet it’s natural to think that our moral judgments about the outcomes of people’s actions are themselves sensitive to whether or not those outcomes were intended or mere side effects. There’s a world of difference between me walking up to someone in the street and punching them square in the face, and accidentally hitting someone in the face as I’m trying to provide directions to another passerby (a feat I once achieved on London’s Tower Bridge). In the first case, my intentions would be bad, and so the outcome is judged as a moral offence; the latter was an accident, a side-effect of trying to help someone else, and therefore not morally blameworthy. It seems that judgments about intentionality should come first, with the moral judgment deriving from that.
The definition of liberal moral self-regard.

In common morality people are held responsible for thoughtlessness that results in a bad outcome while not being given credit for thoughtlessness that results in a good one. Thoughtlessness is thoughtlessness. It is not something we the community should encourage. And as always the answer to the trolley problem, which the author calls the "Footbridge dilemma", is the example of the utilitarian military, where actors, as officers, are kept at a physical and emotional remove from those they send necessarily to die. The answer in other words is the choice between the ambiguities of democracy, where meanings and intentions are judged to be private (if not incommunicable), or the rule of universal meaning: fascism.
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update 6/29
My responses were too focused on Knobe, even though this paper takes his arguments in a much more interesting direction. I ignored the difference, which was sloppy, and stupid, especially since the research behind the paper confirms something I've argued for years, in fact confirms my arguments more than those of the the authors. Again, my comments, posted here.
I want, or need, to add something else, since my response was too directed at the origin of this discussion, in Knobe's claims. I haven't changed my mind about them, but this paper deserves credit for making something interesting out of what I still think of as banal. What it shows -and I'm relying on the synopsis here- is not how decisions seemingly based on normative belief are based on a search for consistency, but how much we mask our moral assumptions in logic. This ties into my response above to claims about what is and is not "morally blameworthy" but its clear that Sripada and Konrath have given us new information about why Dan Jones would make that claim, and why they make the claims they do about data that shows them to be wrong.
"The basic idea is that when we encounter cases like Knobe’s Chairman scenario, we make two different judgments: one about his attitudes and values — is he anti- or pro-environmental? — and another about whether the outcomes of his actions are consistent with those attitudes. Neither of these judgments is normative; they are descriptive judgments about the facts of the case."
But "logically" the response would be to take the chairman at his word and say that he was neither pro or anti environmental. According to his statements, absent perceived moral implication, the question would be the equivalent of whether or not a pebble would end up on his desk or a glass would contain water or seltzer. The responses documented in the paper are based on assumed and implied values, but only after being shrouded in logic; shrouded to a degree that the authors, like the subjects*, like the author of this post, saw the logic but not the moral foundation. This, with the discussion of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, makes this paper much more interesting than anything by Knobe.
*More sloppiness on my part. I tossed that in without thinking; as far as I know the subjects weren't asked. A group of non-participants were asked later to offer an explanation: "The vast majority cited normative factors — precisely the explanatory factors that the structural path analyses undermine."

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