Thursday, December 10, 2009

Socrates and Euthyphro discuss divine attitudes and morality

A powerpoint (with glitches introduced by the hosting site, but no complaints, it's free)

The curious case of philosophers and experimental psychologists - or -

"Do you really want to let that philosopher loose in the lab?"

Right now I am in the middle of a fascinating book that lives happily at the intersection of philosophy and experimental psychology. The book Experimental Philosophy, is a collection of essays from various academic journals, giving us results from and discussion concerning some very interesting experimental work revolving around issues traditionally the concern of professional philosophers, but dealt with utilizing a decidedly non-armchair approach. This post is a sampler and a bleg of sorts. Play along with the 'research', and post your results here in the comments section:

First, three scenarios, and then some questions:

Scenario One

Fred is on a flight with Barney, his long-time best friend. He really detests Barney, and wants to kill him. In fact he’s planning on doing so once they arrive at their destination. Why? Barney and Wilma, Fred’s wife, have been having an affair, and both have taken pains to hide the fact. Barney’s phony friendship act is especially grating, and Fred is doing all he can to mask his hatred and disdain. After Fred knock off Barney, he will divorce Wilma leaving her with none of his fortune in Slate Enterprises stock. Sweet revenge.
On this flight, however are hijackers, who take over control of the plane. They decide they need to kill one person in order to terrorize the passengers into submission. Additionally, they do not want to do it themselves. They will force a passenger to do so, to further terrorize them into submission. They pick Fred to be the killer. They place a gun in his hand, move it to point at Barney’s temple, point another gun at Fred’s temple and order him to shoot Barney in the head. He squeezes the trigger. Barney is killed.

Scenario Two

Same as above except that the hijackers administer a drug that they have created in their laboratory. It is a drug that makes people completely unable to resist orders or suggestion. It creates the odd sensation of watching one’s own body obey commands quite independently of whether or not one wants to comply. If you are under the influence of this drug, your body will obey, and it will seem to move on its own, just as you might think another person, animal or machine is moving on its own. One gets the distinct impression that the limbs moving are not really one’s own, even though they are. The hijackers give Fred this drug, give him the gun, and order him to shoot Barney in the head. He does. Barney is dead.


Scenario Three

Same as #1 except the hijackers grab Barney, make clear their intentions, demand a volunteer killer. Fred volunteers, and with much pleasure (and acting as if he does not want to) he shoots Barney dead.

Now, several questions:

In scenario three, is Fred morally responsible for Barney’s death? Yes or No?

In scenario one, is Fred morally responsible for Barney’s death? Yes or No?

In scenario two, is Fred morally responsible for Barney’s death? Yes or No?

Answer not only for yourself, but try to predict what you think the answer will be for each scenario if a survey were taken of some group of experimental subjects. What percentage of survey takers would answer “yes” in each? What percentage would answer “no” in each?
Another interesting project: survey several of your friends or people at the neighborhood bar, pub, or a party you attend (and report the results here in the comments section!)

Now three related scenarios:

Hearkening back to a post from summer 09, suppose that there is an omniscient physicist (Oppenheimer) who knows all the laws of nature (those we know, and all others yet to be discovered). Oppenheimer knows these laws in the strongest possible sense. He is not, and indeed can never be in error about them. He also has complete knowledge of the conditions of all objects in the universe. Why stop there? He also has a computer that can take input that represents the laws of nature, along with descriptions of the conditions of all objects in the universe at any given time, and can give, as output, a complete description of all those objects at any other time, past present or future.

In that earlier post, we imagined this kind of scenario with respect to David Hume and two events: his drinking an ice cold India Pale Ale, and his jumping out of a window singing the Notre Dame fight song (something I think Notre Dame fan is probably doing right about now given the prospects for that once mighty ‘franchise’).

In the present bunch of scenarios, ( Four, Five and Six) we change things up just a bit. It ain't Big Dave Hume we’re dealing with, and the stakes of the choices are higher. Now, imagine that Oppenheimer is on board that jet. He is in our three Fred and Barney scenarios, and in each case, of course, he quietly predicts that Fred will shoot Barney. In each case, Fred does.

In the earlier post about David Hume, I asked whether such a scenario is really possible. Here, let's assume it is, and let’s worry more about some questions related to the first bunch of Fred and Barney questions just above:

Given that Oppenheimer is always correct in his predictions of the future course of the universe, it follows that he is right about the course of Fred’s actions. Fred will shoot Barney.

All that being true..

Is Fred morally responsible for Barney’s death in scenario three?

In scenario one?

In scenario two?

As in the first three scenarios, answer not only for yourself, but try to predict what you think the answer will be for each scenario if a survey were taken of some group of experimental subjects.

What percentage of survey takers would answer “yes” in each case? What percentage would answer “no” in each?


Oh, and don’t forget that other interesting project: survey several of your friends or people in the neighborhood bar, pub, or the next party you attend (and report the results here in the comments section of course!)

[More later, I do not want to bias the sample. Waiting eagerly for responses!]

Why Afghanistan is a long term project

A graphically graphic illustration from somewhere back in April:




[Click to enlarge]


Alternative title: Mad PowerPoint(t) Skeelz.