Friday, February 12, 2010

Do determinists cheat more?

At least according to this study. HT: Tom Gilson.

I suppose a really good study would break it down between soft determinists and hard determinists. Maybe it's just the hard determinists that are skewing the curve.


Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:
I've always wanted to say this in a comment -
"Well, Duh!"

Doctor Logic said...

Cool article.

Ken Jacobs said...

The authors were fairly cautious in their conclusions but not quite so in their method. Suggestion of a lack of free will might have resulted in the removing of a piece of rationale for responsible moral behavior without a substitute rationale.

I've never believed in any concept of libertarian free will (with or without determinism, I find it entirely incoherent), and yet I do accept responsibility, and hold others responsible as well.

The best way to describe it is that I accept moral rules in the same way we accept the rules of baseball. We also accept a meta-moral rule, reponsibility, in the same way we accept the meta-rule of the authority of an umpire's decisions. An umpire may not always be correct in his decisions of balls and strikes but we accept that he has sole authority to call them as he sees them. In the same way, even though we are not ultimately responsible, we are a clear proximate cause of our own decisions and behaviors. Simple acceptance of the rules, and meta-rules, is more than sufficient to play the moral game. In other words, whether you believe in free will or not, holding oneself and other people responsible has a practical benefit of keeping people moral.

It's obvious to me, as a person that had to think seriously about non-free will and responsibility, that a sudden lack of free will belief may have temporarily rendered people without any reason at all to feel responsible, those people having normally relied on a folk belief rationale (specifically libertarian free will) for accepting responsibilty.

Doctor Logic said...

I think the ironic thing about this experiment is that it suggests (though doesn't show) that people make a rational decision to cheat when their confidence in their free will is reduced.

Of course, there are other factors that could account for the behavior. In anonymous social situations, we don't want to come away with the short straw. We don't want to be the only loser. For example, traffic speeding is commonplace. The police don't ticket you unless you're about 10-15mph over the limit. I have a hard time believing that 90% of drivers on the road don't believe in free will, and yet they cheat. So, it's possible that the experiment lowers the subject's assessment of the society's (the experimenter's) baseline expectations on the subject. They might simply think that they're expected to cheat.

Also, there's not a strong consensus on the meaning of "free will", even among philosophers. If free will is interpreted by the subjects to mean "the reward I receive is independent of what I do," then cheating is easier, has the same reward, and becomes the rational choice. However, this is certainly not a standard philosophical meaning of free will. Even hard-core determinists don't claim that the outcomes are fixed no matter what you do. Rather, they would claim that the future is fixed precisely because one's deliberations do have deterministic causal effect.

Even though the experiment is bound to misinterpreted, I still love it!

kmisho said...

Correlation/causation problem. Is it not also possible that cheaters tend to be attracted to determinism because it explains away their cheating?

Gregory said...

The Baseball Rule analogy would make sense if, and only if, a person was already convinced of "moral relativism". Which is what this analogy implies because the rules of Baseball are merely stipulations/conventions rather than ethical verities.

Furthermore, if someone was convinced of "moral relativism", then moral principles are based on the discretion of the individual subject. Therefore, a person could be said to be moral and a "cheat" because moral "oughts" are at the discretion of each person's will.

The Libertarian would argue the reverse. Namely, that individual "will's" are subject to moral principles/rules. Insofar as a person freely wills a "good", then such a person is said to be "good".

On the other hand, determinism implies that "causality", and not any individual "will", is the benefactor of responsibility since it is the originating cause of action.

But here's a Legal counter-example for the "causalists". In a criminal act that involves multiple persons who actually committed some crime (say murder or robbery), it is the "mastermind" of the scheme who takes the brunt of the punishment, even though all are convicted. What's more, each is found "guilty", regardless of who originated the scheme, because each person "willingly" participated in the crime. Courts do not generally accept "Manchurian Candidate" defenses. So, accountability does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the "mastermind", because the evidence always shows that each person involved in the crime has some knowledge and culpability of the criminal act and it's moral consequences. And, that they also willingly acted against what they knew to be "right" (i.e. moral guilt and/or awareness of civil retribution). Therefore, everyone is typically found "guilty" in cases involving accomplices.

However, not everyone is punished the same. The degree to which each person is punished is in accord with the nature of "complicity" in the act. And, of course, the Judge and Jury determine the extent of that complicity based on the forensic evidence, eyewitness testimony and the testimony of the accused.

But what you will not find, in virtually all cases, is the complete exoneration of accomplices based on coercion, insanity, ignorance, cognitive retardation, etc. Courts have a hard time believing, after the testimony and evidence is heard, that individual accomplices were wholly unaware of the crime being committed (i.e. ethical cognizance) and/or unaware of the repercussions of the act (i.e. practical consequences).

And the Nuremberg trials perfectly illustrate the principle of libertarian responsibility. In fact, all "just" Legal systems reject compatilbilism (i.e. "strongest desire" causality considerations). The Nuremberg Court flatly rejected the "I-was-just-following-orders" and "what-else-could-I-do" defenses because internal/external pressure is not a good excuse.

Whether determinists "cheat" more is uncertain, to me. What is certain, though, is that they are reckoned "cheats" at all, precisely, because they are libertarian free.

Doctor Logic said...


On the other hand, determinism implies that "causality", and not any individual "will", is the benefactor of responsibility since it is the originating cause of action.

But ultimate origination isn't the same thing as responsibility. We say a person has responsibility when they are expected to be able to understand and act on society's rules. ("Ignorance of the law is no excuse.")
No part of this contradicts determinism.

The whole idea that someone can be the ultimate cause of action is incoherent. If the source of the action is independent of the past and of constants (the self is in time, so it is part of that set), then there's literally nothing left (an empty set) for the action to depend upon. That would make the action fundamentally random because all the other factors can do is determine a probability distribution.

I think the libertarian mistake is to conclude that the way things are (i.e., that determinism is not the case) because of how we think things ought to be (i.e., culpability free from mitigating factors). However, just because we naturally hold people responsible as if there are no mitigating factors is not evidence against determinism. The libertarian is holding up some metaphysical notion of guilt and innocence as evidence about reality. The inferences should be reversed. We can't go around cooking up metaphysical notions, and then expecting reality conform to those notions.

If you learned that the world was mechanistic and deterministic, what would you do differently? There aren't many things that would change. I think the main thing that changes is that punishment and enforcement get tailored to produce the best outcome rather than to ensure that people are punished as they "deserve" to be. If harshly punishing a person for a wrong would raise the probability of other wrongs occurring, it may preferable to let them get off free than to impose a harsh punishment. That is, one may go easier on cheats and freeloaders if going-easier leads to better social outcomes.