Spring 2023 Ethics Class Notes and Reading Schedule

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1: AUG 29: Course Introduction

First Day of Class Information

  • Welcome - personal introduction and welcome.
  • Ethics News!!
  • About the Course
  • Course Websites: Wiki & Courses.alfino.org (Some student introductions.)
  • More About the Course (Orientation, Content, major research questions)
  • Naturalism in Ethics -- What if Ethics has its origins in our natural history? Why this is/was a radical claim.
  • Fields of study represented in the course: Biology, Psychology, Moral Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Behavioral Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, History
  • First six weeks: A basic theory of morality as an evolved system.
  • 1. Lots of theory from the fields mentioned above directed toward our research questions. What are socially evolved behaviors, for example? How is morality an evolved system for humans? It takes some serious reading and discussion to answer these question.
  • 2. Exercises in "Everyday Ethics." While we are building our knowledge of the general theory of ethics, we will work on a few everyday ethics problems to build critical skills. Ethics news! often gives us spontaneous occasions to practice our course skills.
  • Next nine weeks: Major Applied Topics:
  • The nature of political and moral difference, and implications
  • What are basic liberties? Do they include the right to abortion?
  • Justified Partiality
  • Empathy
  • Moral Responsibility and Punishment
  • Overview of Teaching Approach.
  • 1. Grading Schemes.
  • You will be able to make some choices about what you are graded on and the weight of different assignments. This is your "grading scheme." You can customize up to 30% of your grading scheme to suite your learning style or motivations in the course. You will also have some grade information about "Points" assignments that will allow you to raise or lower the weight of "Points". This allows you to work on early difficulties without a big effect on your final grade.
  • 2. Transparency of student work and grades.
  • In this course we use pseudonyms to allow sharing of grade information and student work - You will see most of the writing and scoring for required writing assignments, including my assessments of other student's work. This has many benefits.
  • 3. Approach to writing instruction.
  • a. Learning to assess writing. Writers improve when they acquire skills in evaluating their own and others' writing. We will cultivate these skills directly and through peer review.
  • b. Building from small, short writing, to longer, more complex writing. The writing skills in this course are sequenced and early assignments give you performance information without affecting your grade much.
  • c. Looking at reading comprehension. I no longer use reading quizes, but you should compare your "recall" from reading in class with others'. Comment on reading comprehension and its role in performance. (Some student introductions.)
  • Succeeding in the Course:
  • There is no final exam in this course, so your success depends upon demonstrating the philosophical skills we build toward in required and optional assignments.
  • Prep Cycle - view reading notes as you are reading, read, note, evaluate preparation against other students' access to reading content in class and small discussions. Hierarchy of skills and goals.
  • Reading - Keep track of the time you spend reading for the course. Mark a physical text. Contact me about your reading experience. Advice on Reading
  • Speaking and Discussion - Don't underestimate the importance of practicing the articulation of your views. This happens in class together and in small groups. Speaking well is at least as important as writing well. Small group discussions provide your most extensive opportunities to improve your articulateness ahead of writing assignments.
  • Writing - We will train on the rubric early on, you will be able to read lots of other students' writing and compare scores, and discuss your writing with me, especially during office hours. Because everything is transparent, you can compare your work to slightly higher and lower evaluated student work. This often leads to productive office hour discussions. (Some student introductions.)
  • Required Assignments and Default Grade Weights for your Grading Scheme
  • Points 35-65% default = 55%
  • Position Paper 1 15-25% default = 20%
  • Position Paper 2 20-30% default = 25%

  • First Day TO DO list
  • Open and read "Websites in this Course" from the shared folder.
  • Go to the two course websites and make sure you understand what information and resources each provides.
  • Browse some links on the course wiki page, including old Ethics News!
  • Find the reading for next class on the wiki and access pdfs from courses.alfino.org. Consider printing pdfs.
  • Keep an eye out for Ethics News!

2: AUG 31. Unit One: An Interdisciplinary Theory of Morality


  • Ariely, Why We Lie (6)
  • Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Intro and Chapter 1 (24)
  • Zimbardo Experiment -- view one of the youtube videos about the experiment. read the wiki page.
  • 1st Dropbox Assignment assigned, not due today

Method: Reporting Findings from Social Science research

  • Tips on How to report study findings
  • Philosophy makes use of a wide range of evidence and knowledge. In this course you will encounter alot of psychological, anthropological and cultural studies. You have to practice the way you represent studies (as opposed to theories) and how you make inferences from their conclusions.
  • Some key elements to distinguish in reporting research:
  • observational, survey, experimental
  • study setup: for observational: who were the test subjects, what were they asked to do; for survey: what instrument was used, to whom was it given?
  • what conditions were tested?
  • what was the immediate result?
  • what was the significance or inference to be made from the results?

Ariely, Why We Lie

  • Assumptions: we think honesty is an all or nothing trait.
  • Research on honesty with the "matrix task"
  • Shredder condition
  • Payment condition
  • Probability of getting caught condition
  • Distance of payment condition
  • Presence of a cheater condition
  • Priming with 10 commandments or signature on top of form
  • Implications: for current and possible new approaches to limit cheating.
  • Philosophical Implications: What, if anything, does this tell us about the nature of ethics?

Debrief on Zimbardo - Stanford Prison Experiment

  • Let's practice our protocol for reporting research here.
  • What are the principle insights from this experiment? How might they relate to recent events?

1st Writing and Dropbox practice

  • Please write a 250 word maximum answer to the following question by TBD, 11:59pm. This assignment will give us some initial writing to look at and give you practice with the dropbox protocol for turning in pseudonymous writing in the course. For this assignment, the writing itself is ungraded, but you will receive 15 points for following the instructions accurately.
  • Topic: Is it morally acceptable to gossip? If so, under what conditions? Does gossip serve a legitimate purpose? If so, what is it?
  • Prompt Advice: Try to make your position clear (the "what") and the reasons clear (the "why"). Good arguments also try to respond to objections and consider the most reasonable opposing views. Your position is likely to be stronger if it is qualified in various ways. I strongly encourage you to draft your answer the night before it is due and return to it on the night that it is due.
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs, but do indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: Gossip.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "#0 1st Writing and Dropbox practice" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.

Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Intro and Chapter 1

  • Intro
  • Note: starts with problem of "getting along" -- problem of ethics is settling conflict (recall contrast with more traditional goal of finding a method or theory to discover moral truth).
  • The "righteous" mind is at once moral and judgemental. It makes possible group cooperation, tribes, nations, and societies.
  • Majors claims of each section:
  • Intuitions come first, reasoning second. The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider's job is to serve the elephant.
  • There's more to morality than harm and fairness
  • Morality binds and blinds -- We are 90 percent chimp, 10% bee.
  • Keep notes that help you tie content back to these claims.
  • Method Note: This is explanatory writing. Not philosophy directly. Digression on difference between explanatory and justifactory writing.
  • Moral reasoning as a means of finding truth vs. furthering social agendas. Paradox of Moral Experience: We experience our morality the first way, but when we look objectively at groups, it's more like the second way.
  • Chapter 1
  • Harmless taboo violations: eating the dog / violating a dead chicken.
  • Brief background on developmental & moral psychology: p. 5
  • nativists -- nature gives us capacities to distinguish right from wrong, possibly using moral emotions.
  • empiricists -- we learn the difference between right and wrong from experience. tabula rasa.
  • rationalists -- circa '87 Piaget's alternative to nature/nurture -- there is both a natural developmental requirement and empirical requirement for understanding the world in the way we consider "rational" (folk physics, folk psychology).
  • Piaget's rationalism: kids figure things out for themselves if they have normal brains and the right experiences. stages: example of conservation of volume of water (6) "self-constructed" - alt to nature/nurture. 7: We grow into our rationality like caterpillars into butterflies.
  • Kohlberg's "Heinz story" - pre-conventional, conventional, post-conventional. [1]
  • note problems, p. 9. seems to support a liberal secular world view. Egalitarianism, role playing, disinterestedness.... Is it obvious or suspicious that that's what rationalism leads to? Haidt suspects something's been left out.
  • Additional criticisms of Kohlberg (also at Haidt 9): seemed to diminish the importance of loyalty, authority, and tradition as less developed levels of moral response. Abstracts from relationships. (Could it be that morality is independent of our concrete relationships? Not likely.)
  • Turiel: note different method. Probing to find contingencies in kids' thinking about rules. kids don't treat all moral rules the same: very young kids distinguish "harms" from "social conventions". Harm is "first on the scene" in the dev. of our moral foundations. (Note: Still following the idea that moral development is a universal, culturally neutral process.) (Note on method: we have, in Turiel's research, a discovery of an unsupported assumption.)
  • Haidt's puzzle about Turiel: other dimensions of moral experience, like "purity" and "pollution" seem operative at young ages and deep in culture (witches -- how do human minds create witches in similar ways in different places?). 11-13 examples. Found answers in Schweder's work.
  • In what ways is the concept of the self culturally variable?
  • Schweder: sociocentric vs. individualistic cultures. Interview subjects in sociocentric societies don't make the moral/conventional distinction the same way we (westerns) do. (Schweder is "saying" to Kohlberg and Turiel: your model is culturally specific.) For example in the comparison of moral violations between Indians from Orissa and Americans from Chicago, it is important that these groups don't make the convention/harm distinction Turiel's theory would predict. That's a distinction individualist cultures make.
  • Haidt's research: Wrote vignettes to ask test subjects, including Turiel's uniform / swing pushing incident. focus on vignettes is "harmless taboo violation" (no victim /no harm), which pits intuitions about norms and conventions against intuitions about the morality of harm. Study in three cities with two socio-economic groups. Showed that Schweder was right. The morality/convention distinction was itself culturally variable.
  • Americans make big dist. between morality and convention. upper-class Brazilians like Americans. lower class groups tended to see smaller morality/convention difference. All morality.
  • Turiel is right about how our culture makes the harm/convention distinction, but his theory doesn't travel well. Roughly, more sociocentric cultures put the morality(wrong even if no rule)/convention (wrong because there is a rule) marker more to the morality side. almost no trace of social conventionalism in Orissa.
  • Identify, if possible, some practices and beliefs from either your personal views, your family, or your ethnic or cultural background which show a particular way of making the moral/conventional distinction. (Example: For some families removing shoes at the door is right thing to do, whereas for others it is just experienced as a convention. Would you eat a burrito in a public bathroom? Tell story of dinner out with a vegan friend.)

3: SEPT 5


In-class content

  • Lecture Segment: Philosophical Theories: Virtue Ethics
  • Lecture Segment: Some Preliminaries about Ethical theory and objectivity
  • In-class review of 1st practice writing.

Some Preliminaries about Objectivity in Ethics and Features of Ethical Discourse

  • A Framework for thinking about moral theories.
  • Where should we look for "moral goodness"?
  • Intentions (Kantian),
  • Person (a virtuous person) (Aristotle),
  • Consequences (Mill, Singer - Utilitarian)
  • The following is pretty standard, but was drawn from Peter Singer's classic, Practical Ethics:
  • Question to keep in mind for the next 5 minutes: When Haidt was showing that there was cultural variation in the way people make the "Harm / Convention" distinction, was he embracing "bad relativism"?
  • Singer's arguments against cultural relativism:
  • Cultural Relativism (the old discussion): Ethics varies by culture. Singer: This is true and false, same act under different conditions may have different value, but this is superficial relativism. For example, existence of birth control led to a general change in sexual ethics. The moral principle in question (don't have kids you're not ready to care for) might remain the same and be objective, but the prohibition on casual sex might change.
  • Note: There is strong polling data on advisability of living together prior to marriage. Now, yes; 60 years ago, no. So cultural change itself doesn't tell you whether moral principles are changing.
  • Subjectivist Relativism - This position may not be held by any thoughtful person, but it sounds like what some people say when they start studying values and becomes confused or cynical.
  • The Position: "Wrong" means "I disapprove" or "my society disapproves")
  • The Problems:
  • If this sort of relativism is true, polls could determine ethics. But they don't.
  • Deep subjectivism can't making sense of disagreement. Ethics is a kind of conversation.
  • There is just too much research suggesting that "I approve" isn't philosophical "rock bottom".
  • Singer: Ok to say the values aren't objective like physics (aren't facts about the world), but not sensible to deny the meaningfulness of moral disagreement and ethical reasoning.
  • An evolutionist's twist: A society's ethical culture can produce positive, neutral, or negative outcomes for human flourishing. In this sense, values have objective consequences in meeting selection pressures (both natural and cultural). (Vax values, for example.)
  • Are there minimum conditions for ethical theories? (Or, What kind of conversation is ethics?)
  • The sorts of reasons that count as ethical: universalizable ones. Can't just appeal to one person or group's interest. Note: most standard ethical theories satisfy this requirement, yet yield different analysis and advice. We will look at the specific form of universalization in each theory we discuss, but you could say this is a kind of defining feature of ethical discourse.

Hibbing, et. al. Predisposed Chapter 1

  • Some opening examples of the persistence of partisanship
  • opening example: William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal -- meant as example of highly educated partisans who would be able to debate in a civilized way. 60's era political divisions often violent.
  • also historical examples of highly partisan politics -- Hamilton & Adams, Hamilton & Burr (duelled). Jefferson's dirty tricks.
  • Goal of the Book: to explain why people experience and interpret the political world so very differently. Thesis at p. 5: “Our pitch…” (6): list of differences that track political difference. READ
  • A methodological concern
  • Does it makes sense to reduce political difference to "liberal" vs. "conservative". They are in fact measuring lots of differences, but claim there is a tradition of recognizing this difference. 11: some terminological issues. Ultimately, labels for clusters of real personality and behavioral differences.
  • Think Probabalistically: not biological determinists, rather real persistent differences shape and mold our ideology. Example: relation between conscientiousness and ideology 14. A number of studies replicate a positive correlation bt conscientiousness and conservatism. Lesson on 15: difference between representing data in categories vs. scatterplot. Wilson-Patterson index of conservatism. Brief lesson on correlation, 17. Correlation for conscientiousness and conservatism small r = .2
  • What are predispositions?
  • Predispositions - "biologically and psychologically instantied defaults that, absent new information or overriding, govern response to given stimuli" (24).
  • Leibniz speculated about "appetitions"
  • Neuroscientist Eagleman: brain running alot of its own programs. Ad hoc defenses (also in Haidt) called "baloney generator" by Pinker. We may have an illusion of rationality and control. examples of self-deception like this, p. 21, also top of 22 read.
  • Responses to Political stimuli emotionally salient and not always conscious: Lodge: "hot cognition" or "automaticity"
  • Predispositions vary qualitatively and by intensity. (Examples among people you know.)
  • Note examples from environmental psych on top of p. 21 and top of 22.
  • 23: clarifying argument: not nature / nurture. predispositions are difficult to change. research on long term stability of pol. orientation. 180 degree turn is very unusual.
  • Technical definition of predispositions: "Predispositions, then, can be thought of as biologically and psychologically instantiated defaults that, absent new information or conscious overriding, govern response to given stimuli."
  • Our actual predispositions vary, but also the degree to which we have predispositions is variable across a group. (This is one reason researchers in the field sometimes focus on highly partisan test subjects.)
  • 25: some background on theorizing about political dispositions. what is new today is better research, but also research connecting political variation with bio/cog variation.
  • 27: resistance to this kind of theory in political science. Philip Converse. also, idea that politics is best understood in terms of history and culture

Philosophical Moral Theories: Virtue Ethics

  • concepts from video...
  • Virtue — general idea of being an excellent person. Also, specific lists of virtues (vary by time and culture)
  • A bit of Aristotle’s theory of virtue and human nature: fixed nature, species eternal, proper function (telos), distinctive aspect of function: being rational and political. (Note that modern virtue theorists aren't committed to some of A's false ideas.)
  • Virtue is natural to us. Like an acorn becoming a tree. Being virtuous is being the best of the kind of thing you are. A deep intuition supports this developmental approach. (Pause to consider personal examples of the reality of moral development.)
  • Theory of the Golden Mean: Virtue as mean between extremes of emotion: Ex. Courage (story of stopping the mugger), Honesty, Generosity. (Let's give our own examples.) Virtue as training of emotional response in relation to knowledge of circumstances and the good.
  • How do you acquire virtue? Experience. Practical Wisdom cultivated through habituation. Follow a moral exemplar (virtue coach). Good parenting and shaping by healthy family. It's a training program in becoming the best human you can be based on your "telos".
  • What if we don’t want to become virtuous? What is the motivation to virtue? The pursuit of a happy life that “goes well”. Eudaimonia. Human flourishing. Challenge and development of talents. Should be attractive. Connection between virtue and happiness not guaranteed for Aristotle, but could be tighter in other versions.
  • Additional points:
  • centrality of virtues and practical wisdom. Is practical wisdom real?
  • historic variability and list of virtues. Curiosity was a vice in Medieval Europe. Check out virtue lists on Virtue Wiki.
  • From Aristotle to Evolutionary theory. Eternality of the species. What if you drop this false belief? Human excellence may have to do with meeting or exceeding the challenges posed by our environment. Then the idea that virtues change by time and culture makes more sense. The pursuit of the good life is the objective and constant part of morality, and the everything that changes is part of the challenge of knowing the human good.

4: SEP 7


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 328-374 (46). For this class read only pages 328-354 (26). Use notes below also for part two of this chapter.
  • Utilitarianism:
  • Watch:
  • Recommended to browse:

In-class content

  • Philosophical Method: Ethics as a kind of language game, or conversational constraints on moral discourse. Today, before turning to Sapolsky, we'll do a short workshop on how ethical conversations work.
  • Reviewing samples of first writing

Some writing concepts - Review of first writing

  • A general challenge of good writing -- Getting outside of your head -- looking at the writing as if you didn't write it.
  • Here are a few good writing concepts to look for in the samples on the handout.
  • Flow -- How well does one sentence follow another? Do you notice places where flow is interrupted?
  • Good starts -- Without good introductions and signals of organization and thesis readers are disoriented and confused. Set context by framing the topic. Tell your readers where you are going to take them.
  • Efficient writing -- Literally, how much you say with so many words. Awkward phrasing and limited word choice reduce efficiency.
  • Review of writing samples.
  • I haven't looked at all of the writing yet, but I will share some samples, mostly of good things you are doing. The samples will be drawn from the other section of Ethics. They all do many good things as writers, but there are some differences.

Ethics as a "language game"

  • Well, not really a game. The term comes from a famous philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was interested in how language is similar to a games. For example, there are lots of rules to using language, not just grammar, etc., but social rules. Like the rules for conversations. You can know a language and still not be very sophisticated in having a conversation!
  • Ethical conversations and analyses are general about evaluating "value propositions" - claims that we ought to adopt or reject some value(s) and the associate behavior motivated by those values.
  • So what are some of the unwritten, but widely acknowledged rules for having an ethical conversation? What are the legitimate "moves" you can make in an ethical conversation? What moves would earn you a yellow or red card.
  • Illegitimate moves:
  • appealing to only one person's or group's interests.
  • "What's right is what serves my interests!" vs. "In many circumstances, it is morally permissible for everyone to pursue their interests"
  • denying the standing (need for consideration) of a person or group arbitrarily. "
  • "Everyone deserves human rights except group X"
  • most illicit appeals in informal logic (fallacies): ad hominems and appeals to pity, ignorance, etc.
  • Legitimate moves:
  • appealing to broadly held values about human life and human dignity.
  • appealing to cultural and local norms that may be considered well justified.
  • appealing to objective knowledge claims that may support or invalidate premises.
  • calling into question these norms or their application, often by:
  • 1. conceptual analysis -- What does it mean to value human life?
  • 2. advocacy for specific understanding of human nature or human needs.
  • 3. showing that some value proposition will or will not function to promote desirable outcomes.
  • Constraints (or rules of thumb) we might recommend to improve moral or political discourse:
  • observe norms of civil discourse,
  • avoid calling people liars, implying that they are stupid for not agreeing with you, or impugning bad motives,
  • present others' views in ways that shows empathetic understanding,
  • recognize common ground,
  • show respect for perspectives that seem tied to a person's normal identity, including their personal experience, ethnicity, gender identity/expression, or socio-economic status (SES). Basic and relatively fixed "values orientation" may be part of identity.

Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior Part 1 328-354

  • Evolution 101 — 3 steps - Inheritance - Variation - Fitness
  • Some misconceptions:
  • 1. Evolution is not so much about survival as reproduction. Antagonistic pleiotropy — sperm early, cancer later.
  • 2. The living are not better adapted than the extinct. Fitness isn't "prospective"
  • 3. Evolution is "just a “theory”
  • Sexual selection and natural selection. Example of peacocks — trade offs between two forms of selection.
  • Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Premise: Evolution selects for social and psychological traits and behaviors that improve fitness -- just like it selects for bodies that stand up to selection pressures.
  • Marlin Perkins and Mutal of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Bad ideas about evolution of altruistic species behavior. Group selection doesn’t work that way.
  • Individual Selection — 334: competitive infanticide: why langur monkeys kill babies. How females develop a false estrus to fight back. (Working against mountain gorillas these days.)
  • Kin Selection — 336: Basic idea: your nearest kin has most of your genes. Haldane, “I’d gladly lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.” Allomothering. Grooming behaviors reflect closeness. 337: vervet monkey study - A treats B badly, then B treat A and A's kin badly. Playback studies. These studies show in various ways how warning behaviors track kinship relationships in social primates.
  • problem for kin selection — avoiding inbreeding. Many species mate with 1-3rd cousins. Sperm aggregation. Malagasy giant jumping rat. 340 - women prefer smell of near relatives over unrelated.
  • How do animal recognize kin? Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gives many animals olfactory recognition of kin. Other mechanisms: songs, vaginal fluid smell, milk.
  • How do we do kin selection? Pseudo-kin selection or “green beard” effects. We are not limited to actual kin, any conspicuous feature (like a green beard). Humans show green beard effects. Related to parochialism and xenophobia. It could also be that our preference for humans over non-humans is a big green bread effect.
  • Reciprocal Altruism.
  • Don't just think about evolution as promoting competition toward extinction. Equilibriums are important. Sustaining conditions that meet selection pressures. (problems that can be addressed by values) Maintaining a good community.
  • Reciprocal altruism is a third way that evolution shapes human behavior. Unrelated individuals cooperate across nature (fish in schools, birds in formation, herds). "Geometry of the selfish herd." Also unrelated primates. Important 1971 paper by Trivers (344) on reciprocal altruism. How social species incur a fitness cost to benefit another individual with expectation of reciprocation.
  • Requirements for reciprocal altruism. Social species, frequent interactions, recognition of individuals (so, also memory).
  • cheating and freeriding can create a "Red Queen" situation.
  • Two big questions: when is cooperation optimal, how can altruism start?
  • What strategy for cooperating is optimal?
  • background to Game Theory - John von Neumann. Prisoner's Dilemma connected biologists to game theorists. Short video on PD: [5] (Note: A good video, but he doesn’t quite get the implication right. It’s not really just a dilemma between individual and group, because the optimal cooperative benefit is also the optimal individual benefit. So it’s more a dilemma between counting on the group payoff being the best for you vs. getting the best individual payoff. It’s all about you, not doing something for the group.)
  • Basics of a Prisoner's Dilemma payoff: A&B cooperate (hold out): 1 year: A cooperates, B defects (rats out B by confessing): B walks and A gets three years. Cooperation is best, but only if you can count on it. If not, then you have to think of average payoffs or outcomes. Some some sets of payoffs, thinking this way leads to defection, the most rational choice, but not optimal. Quite a little dilemma.
  • defection is optimal for single round PD, but what about 3 rounds. Still best to defect. What about "iterated" (uncertain number of rounds)?
  • Axelrod's challenge: Optimal strategy for iterated PD. Winner: Anatol Rapoport: Cooperation on 1st round and then match opponent's previous behavior. "Tit for Tat" Always works toward a draw, or slight negative outcome. Not that Tit for Tat tilts toward cooperation, but avoids being a sucker and punishes defectors. famous paper in 1981 by Axelrod and Hamilton.
  • "Signal errors" can reduce Tit for Tat payoffs. Remedies: "Contrite tit for tat (retaliate after two defections) and Forgiving (forgive 1/3 of defections). Both address the signal error problem, but have other vulnerabilities.
  • Mixed (genetic) strategies: You could start out with one strategy and then change to another. How do you go from punitive Tit for Tat to one incorporating forgiveness? Trust. 350-351: describes a changing environment a events signal to individuals to change strategies. Kind of a model of real life.
  • Black Hamlet fish
  • Stickleback fish
  • But skeptical that tit for tat has been found outside humans.

Philosophical Moral Theories: Consequentialism -- Utilitarianism

  • Let's meet Jeremy Bentham. [6]
  • Brief historical intro to utilitarians: Early industrial society, "social statics" (early efforts to measure social conditions). Utilitarians were seen as reformers.
  • Eudaimonistic(about Happiness or Well-Being) vs. Non-Eudaimonistic (Duty)
  • Two views:
  • 1) Morality is fundamentally eudaimonistic "in the long run," even if it in particular proximate circumstances in does not always involve positive emotions (includes Utilitarians).
  • 2) Morality and moral responses realize disinterested values like reason and justice, that are not related to promoting happy outcomes (Kant / Duty ethics).
  • Fundamental consequentialist intuition: Most of what's important about morality can be seen in outcomes of our actions that promote happiness and human well-being. (Recall "Intentions-Acts-Consequences")
  • Basic principles of utilitarian thought:
  • Equal Happiness Principle: Everyone's happiness matters to them as much as mine does to me. Everyone's interests have equal weight. (Note this is a rational principle. Emotionally, it's false.)
  • Note on method: this is a way to universalize. Recall earlier discussion about conditions for ethical discourse. Ethics is about figuring out when we need to take a moral concern about something and, if we do, then we take on constraint (conversational): universalizability, equality of interests.
  • Principle of Utility: Act always so that you promote the greatest good for the greatest number.
  • Hedonic version: Act to promote the greatest pleasure ...
  • Classical utilitarian: greatest balance of range of qualitatively diverse pleasures and aspects of well-being.
  • Preference utilitarian version: Act to maximally fulfill our interest in acting on our preferences.
  • But what is utility? What is a preference?
  • Utility: pleasure, what is useful, happiness, well-being.
  • Is the utilitarian committed to maximizing happiness of individuals directly? A utilitarian focused on promoting utility, might still acknowledge that promoting human happiness is mostly about protecting conditions for an individual's autonomous pursuit of happiness. Consider cases: When does promoting the greater good involve letting people make their own decisions vs. managing or regulating an issue centrally?
  • Conditions for the pursuit of happiness: Order, stability, opportunity, education, health, rights, liberty.
  • Issue of protection of rights in utilitarian thought.
  • Preferences:
  • An indirect way to solve the problem of lack of agreement about goods. Let's maximize opportunities for people to express their preferences. Positive: pushing the question of the good life to the individual. Negative: High levels of individualism may reduce social trust. Lack of action on opportunities to reduce suffering.
  • Thought experiment: Returning a gun to an angry person. Is the angry person's preference one that has to count?
  • Cultural contradictions in our preferences: we prefer health, but we also "prefer" to eat the western diet. Which preference should the utilitarian focus on? Some preferences are based on bias or prejudice.
  • Need some standard of rational or considered preference. What a "reasonable person" would do. Maybe less disagreement about that than "the good". (Example: Intervening in the lives of homeless mentally ill and suffering.)

Group Discussion: Assessing Utilitarianism

  • Consider applying utilitarianism to different kinds of moral problems (from interpersonal ethics to public policy questions). Identify three situations in which you would want to use utilitarianism and three situations in which you would not.

5: SEP 12


  • Haidt, Chapter 2, "The Intuitive Dog and It's Rational Tail" (25)
  • Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 328-387 (59). For this class read only pages 354-374.

In-class topics

  • Note from last class
  • Small group: Haidt’s social intuitionist model
  • ”Why do we take advice more easily from friends?”
  • Second look: What does the prisoners' dilemma show about the problem of reciprocal altruism and the emergence of cooperation?

Closer Look: What does the prisoners' dilemma show us about the problem of reciprocal altruism and the emergence of cooperation?

  • Reciprocal altruism emerges in our species when we use our big brains to decide when it is rational to incur a fitness cost to help others in expectation of a fitness benefit from their future cooperation. It is rational for us to try to optimize our fitness by benefiting from cooperative relationships. The big questions here is: When and with whom should I cooperate?
  • In the Prisoner's Dilemma, there is a discrepancy between the "rational" outcome (defect, rat the other guy out) and the optimal outcome (both stay quiet). The discrepancy is caused by uncertainty about the other person's behavior. Will they cooperate? Will they make me a "sucker"? Will I get the optimal benefits of cooperation?
  • Resolving this uncertainty is an ethical problem (a problem that can be addressed by values). Values like promising, sincerity, reputation, accountability, punishment (talking stink about defectors) are all means by which we try to realize the benefits of cooperation.

Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 354-374

  • How can cooperation get started and become stable? 353-
  • In other words, how does "tit for tat" survive among defectors? Coalitions, green beard effects.
  • Sometimes natural events cut a group off. Inbreeding promotes stronger kin bonds. That group may outperform others once they out migrate. (Give example from Henrich of Inuits with meat sharing behaviors. A better "cooperative package".)
  • Effects of ind. selection, kin selection, and reciprocal altruism:
  • Tournament vs. Pair bonding - lots of traits and behaviors follow from sexual dimorphism. This also happens in degrees.
  • Parent-Offspring competition - in spite of kin selection, there are some "zero sum" situations bt parents and offspring. parent-offspring weaning conflict and mother-fetus conflict. Over insulin. Dad even has a vote through paternal "imprinted genes," which promote fetal growth at expense of mom. (Intersexual Genetic Conflict)
  • Multilevel Selection MLS
  • Remember the "bad" group selection from the beginning of the chapter? Group selection returns in the last few decades. (Tell story of visits with Bio prof friends over the years.)
  • Genotypic and Phenotypic levels of explanation - unibrows.
  • Organism (expressed individual) is a vehicle of the genome, but the genome has alot to say about how the organism turns out. .
  • Big debate in Biology. Three positions: 1. Dawkins took the "selfish gene" view that the best level of explanation is individual genes. 2. Others say the genome - "a chicken is an egg's way of making another egg" (It's the whole genome travelling through evolutionary "space".); finally, 3. Others like Gould take the phenotype. After all, it's visible to the world. Selection could operate on a single phenotypic trait or the whole individual. Dawkins cake metaphor. 362. (So that's really four levels of selection.)
  • Four levels and counting. Theorists might favor one or more levels as relatively more important than others. Each level involves possible selection pressure or adaptive value in meeting a pressure. The peacock’s plumage is both.
  • 1. Genetic traits. Single selfish genes use us to get into the next gen.
  • 2. Genome. The recipe is what’s passed on, so focus on that.
  • 3. Phenotypic trait. Individual expressed traits (potential to make money).
  • 4. Phenotype. It’s the “whole package - whole person” that we choose.
  • Fifth level: Neo-group selection - the idea that some heritable traits are maladaptive for the individual, but increase the group's fitness (note difference from the bad old group selection).
  • Examples:
  • Encouraging patriotism might lead you to enlist, taking a fitness risk that we benefit from.
  • Jailing someone for their reproductive life is a serious fitness hit, but we're better off with murderers locked up.
  • Neo-group selection happens when groups impose fitness costs or benefits on members or sub-groups.
  • Positive (fitness benefits): zags helping zags, (but is that totally positive?).
  • Negative for some, positive for others(fitness costs): Slavery, racism, class bias, criminal punishment, patriotism, heroism, priests.
  • Some scientists agree that neo-group selection can occur, but think it's rare. Sapolsky points out that it is not rare in humans, due to Green Beard effects.
  • Remember "Green Beard" effects from p. 341 -- a thought experiment in extending/recognizing kin. With neo-group, we go further, and hypothesize that we can form groups around almost anything (sport teams in an imaginary baseball league). Human mind does not limit partiality or commitment to kin or even social group.
  • Where do we fit in? AND US?
  • We're bit of chimp and a bit of bonobo. Men 10% larger, 20% heavier than women. Slight dimorphism. Not quite pair-bonding, not quite tournament
  • US and Individual Selection: Example of divorce: natural experiment when cultural taboos are lifted. Note that increased divorce rates are confined to the same percentage of population. Lift culture and you get to see who the "less pair-bonding" people are! Likewise with historically powerful (and not very romantic) rulers. Point: with absolute power, tyrants often adopt extreme reproductive behaviors with many hundreds of women, if possible.
  • US and Kin selection: Still very powerful, most feuds are clan based, but we can go to war against kin, and we give to strangers. We can be disgusted by people who betray their families: Story of Pavlik Morozov, 368. 368: study about preferring dog to x, y, z. vmPFC involved.
  • Why do humans deviate from kin selection so much. Biologists also want to find mechanisms. Animals recognize kin by MHC or imprinted genes. We do it cognitively. Much more flexibility.

Haidt, Chapter 2, "The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail"

  • Some complaints about philosophers
  • Philosophy's "rationalist delusion" ex. from Timaeus. but also in rationalist psych. -- Assuming reason is our perfection. Desire is a necessary evil for mortals. Desire is a slave to reason.
  • Three models for the relation of reason to desire:
  • Plato - Reason ought to be the master of emotions. (Timaeus myth of the body - 2nd soul(emotional)), but also image of human as charioteer holding the reigns on desire (the horses). The "ultimate rationalist fantasy" is to believe that passions only serve reason, which controls them.
  • Hume (Reason is slave of passions) Examples: Reason comes in to justify emotion. Inner lawyer.
  • Jefferson (The Head and The Heart model. Nature has made a "division of labor" - Haidt thinks Jefferson got it right.). Jefferson’s racy trip to Paris.
  • The troubled history of applying evolution to social processes
  • A brief history of attempts to apply Darwinian thinking to social life (and morality).
  • Darwin - a nativist - thought nature selected for moral emotions like sympathy and concern about reputation. First wave: Late 19th century: “Social Darwinism” (not Darwin’s conviction). (Note that it violates Sapolsky’s warning about evolution being prospective.)
  • Second wave 60s (hippie/boomer) ideology suggesting that we can liberate ourselves from our biology and traditional morality (as contraception appeared to). Resists idea, for example, that men and women might have different evo strategies. Resists culture and authority as oppressive.
  • Example: Resistance to E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology. Wilson advanced the claim we saw in Sapolsky: Evolution shapes behavior. But he dared to apply it to humans.
  • Wilson also suspected that our rational justifications might be confabulations to support our intuitions. Roughly, we are disgusted by torture so we believe in rights. Read at 32: “Do people believe…?
  • The emotional nineties (Third Wave)
  • Even though Wilson was shouted down and “de-platformed”, history proves him right.
  • de Waal, primatologist, who studied moral behavior in primates. Monkey fairness.
  • Damasio's research on vmPFC disabled patients. They could watch gruesome images without feeling, but had trouble planning. (Phineas Gage) Lesions shut down the "valence" (flashes of positive neg emotions) encoded in memory. (Quick examples.)
  • Point: Reasoning about practical matters requires feeling.
  • Why Atheists Won’t Sell Their Souls
  • Evolutionary Psychology in moral psychology: Dual Processing model. [7]
  • Do we make moral decisions under controlled or automatic processing? No problem making moral decisions under cognitive load. Suggests automatic processing. Note this also suggests that we shouldn't think of our "principles" as causal.
  • Can we see automatic processing when reasons are missing?
  • Roach-juice
  • Soul selling
  • Incest story (Harmless taboo violation). Note how interviewer pushes toward dumbfounding.
  • How to explain dumbfounding: Pattern matching v. Reasoning
  • Margolis: seeing that (pattern matching - automatic) vs. reasoning why (controlled thought); we have bias toward confirmation, which is seen in the mistake people make on the Wasson Card test. "Judgement and justification are separate processes." At least sometimes, it appears the justification is ex post facto. (Reason a slave to the passions.)
  • Rider and Elephant (System 2 (reason) and System 1 (passions; emotions)
  • Important to see Elephant as making judgements (Emotions are epistemic), not just "feeling" (Hard for traditional philosophers to do.) (Pause for examples of "intelligent emotions")
  • 45: Elephant and Rider defined. Emotions are a kind of information processing, part of the cognitive process. Not just “gut feeling”. Intuition and reasoning are both cognitive.
  • Values of the rider: seeing into future, treating like cases like; post hoc explanation, but "expensive" in terms of attention and time. (Like education itself!)
  • Values of the elephant: automatic, valuative, ego-maintaining, opens us to influence from others.
  • Note Carnegie's advice -- fits with Haidt's model. If you want to persuade people, talk to the elephant. (Note: If the elephant is very afraid and powerless, this can lead to bad outcomes.)
  • Social Intuitionist Model
  • How does Rider and Elephant interact socially? Examples from everyday life: Who do you take advice and criticism from? People who’s elephants you like and like you.
  • Bring up Repligate issue. [8]

6: SEP 14


  • Robert Sapolsky, from Behave, Chapter 13, "Morality and doing the Right Thing, Once You've Figured Out What that Is." pp. 478-483.


  • Supplemental document for SW1. Alfino, "Defining Morality and Values" (shared folder) for next time. Part of SW1.
  • Theory of Mind
  • Rubric training

Sapolsky, Robert. Behave. C 13, "Morality and Doing the Right Thing" (479-483)

  • What is the capacity: Theory of Mind?
  • Is moral decision making mostly reasoning or intuition?
  • The case for primacy of cognition:
  • Lots of examples of reason based rules in law and social institutions. Law books. This kind of reasoning activates the dlPFC and TPJ (temporoparietal junction) - also for theory of mind tasks. Suppress TPJ and less concern about intentions! Yikes.
  • Theory of Mind tasks are those involving perceiving and inferring intentions. Central to social life!
  • Moral reasoning is skewed toward the cognitive in some predictable ways:
  • Doing harm worse than allowing it. (commission vs. omission.)
  • Better at detecting rule violations that have malevolent causes as their outcomes. (Bias toward danger.). (Boss/environment/profits study)
  • Note comment about Singer (Trolley, trolley…)
  • The case for primacy of intuition:
  • We often don’t know why we make some judgements.
  • Problem with the moral reasoning (cognitive) view: lots of evidence for intuition and emotion. We often make moral judgements automatically. vmPFC before dlPFC.
  • Different types of transgressions activate, preferentially, vmPFC (and other areas) vs dlPFC. Pity, indignation, intense conflict all have “localizations”. Sexual transgressions activate the insula. Some predictive ability in this research. People with damage to vmPFC will sacrifice 1 family member to save 5 strangers (Trolley…)
  • Reviews Haidt's Social Intuitionism: "moral thinking is for social doing". The reasoning is mostly to show others what we're doing (and to "advertise" it). "virtue signaling"

Rubric Training

  • Assignment Rubric - Normalizing scores. What's a 5 out of 7? How likely are we to see 3, 2, or 1?
  • Today we will do some rubric training (sometimes called "grade norming").
  • I have made a directory with writing and scores from a previous set of students writing on a different SW1 prompt. You may find it valuable to open the spreadsheet document and read some of the 14s. If we have time in class, we may look at a few.
  • Here's the prompt they were responding to:
  • IntuitionReasonJonathan Haidt claims that the first principle of moral psychology is, "Intuitions Come First, Reasoning Second". Drawing only on the first three chapters of Haidt, but also Sapolsky 479-483, explain the meaning of this principle and how it is supported with research (about 400 words). How should we think about the relationship between intuition and reason in doing ethics? (about 200 words).

7: SEP 19


  • Haidt, Chapter 3, "Elephants Rule" (52-72)
  • Alfino, "Defining Morality and Values" (shared folder)
  • SW1 Assigned today

In-class content

  • "Defining Morality and Values" Philosophers' critical quetions.
  • SW1 Assignment - Review

What is Ethics? What are Values? How are they enforced?

  • Morality is about problems that can be addressed by values.
  • Values are expectations of others to think, speak, feel, and act in particular ways (and sometimes to refrain from thinking, speaking, etc. in particular ways).
  • We enforce values in social life by many means, from conversation about expectations, gossip about others’ behavior, and, of course, the justice system.

Summing up Sapolsky: Morality as a product of Evolution

  • Some key claims and inferences:
  • Evolution shapes our bodies, our behaviors, and our ideas (evo-psych)
  • Cooperation and coalitions can give us a fitness advantage.
  • A problem with cooperation is to not become a sucker and to avoid free-riders.
  • This is a problem we can address with values (e.g. it’s a moral problem).
  • Morality isn’t only about cooperation.

Haidt, Chapter 3, "Elephants Rule"

  • Personal Anecdote from Haidt's married life: your inner lawyer (automatic speech)
  • Priming studies: "take" "often" -- working with neutral stories also
  • Research supporting "intuitions come first"
  • 1. Brains evaluate instantly and constantly
  • Zajonc on "affective primacy"- small flashes of pos/neg feeling from ongoing cs stimuli - even applies to made up language "mere exposure effect" tendency to have more positive responses to something just be repeat exposure.
  • 2. Social and Political judgements are especially intuitive
  • Affective Priming - flashing word pairs with dissonance: "flower - happiness" vs. "hate - sunshine"
  • Implicit Association Test Project Implicit
  • Flashing word pairs with political terms causes dissonance. measurable delay in response when, say, conservatives read "Clinton" and "sunshine". Dissonance is pain.
  • Todorov's work extending "attractiveness" advantage to snap judgements. "Competency" judgments of political candidates correct 2/3 of time. note:
  • Judgements of competence. note speed of judgement .1 of a second.(59)
  • 3. Bodies guide judgements
  • Fart Spray exaggerates moral judgements (!)
  • Zhong: hand washing before and after moral judgements.
  • Helzer and Pizarro: standing near a sanitizer strengthens conservatism.
  • 4. Psychopaths: reason but don't feel
  • Transcript from Robert Hare research
  • 5. Babies: feel but don't reason
  • 6. Affective reactions in the brain Belief Change
  • Josh Greene's fMRI studies of Trolley type problems. The Trolley Problem
  • Research study: 20 stories like trolley: direct personal harm, for good reason. 20 stories of impersonal harm. 18 test subjects put in fMRI and asked about each story. Personal harm stories consistently activate more emotional centers, like vmPFC.
  • Pause on Joshua Greene quote, p. 67
  • When does the elephant listen to reason?
  • Paxton and Greene experiments with incest story using versions with good and bad arguments. Harvard students showed no difference, though some when allowed delayed response.
  • Friends... The Importance of Friends...Friends are really important...

Philosophical Moral Theories: Duty Ethics

  • Basic intuition behind non-consequential duty ethics: Moral behavior sometimes feels like a "command" or absolute imperative to live up to an ideal. Versions of this include:
  • An external command, as coming from a creator God, such as God's command to Abraham to kill Isaac, or, better, to follow the example of Jesus. But then, a revolutionary might also feel this way.
  • An internal command, an internalization of Divine laws, like the 10 commandments, or
  • A completely secular sense of duty to be true to an ideal or conception of ourselves.
  • As rational - "I have to respect X's right to live their own lives" (also respect for autonomy)
  • As deserving of basic dignity - "I don't feel morally comfortable with people making degrading choices from limited options." (Famine brides, sex trafficking, organ donation under conditions of poverty, but also humiliation, etc. from discrimination)
  • As deserving of care - Human dignity also requires that I care for other's basic needs. (People living in squalor, dying for lack of health care.
  • As free people who enjoy liberty. (This relates to our new unit on basic liberties.)
  • Typical formulation of "modern" duty ethics comes from Kant. He is focused on autonomy and honoring our rational being, not improving others' material circumstances. Morality has nothing to do with our natural inclinations or self-interest.
  • Kant's view:
  • What does it mean to be good, for Kant? To have a good will. The will to do the right thing. Not for rewards.
  • Bartender example. Self-interested motivations don’t count (fear of getting caught, losing customers, harming customers).
  • What is it that Kant wants you to love and swear absolute duty to? A little background on Kant. Enlightenment figure. (This is a good time to read a bit about the European intellectual movement called "The Enlightenment". Some Enlightenment ideals: modern free will, importance of reason.
  • Kant's ideal: Morality originates in my free will. The ability to make rules for ourselves. Being rational. Being bad is a failure of duty to revere this freedom in me and in others.
  • This does involves a pretty radical abstraction from the promotion of happiness. For Kant, what's morally important about us has nothing to do with our well-being, contra eudaimonistic ethics.
  • Categorical Imperative - Kant's phrase for the kind of motivation (maxim describing our will) that is moral, as opposed to prudential (prudence is about managing consequences).
  • Formulation #1: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become universal law.” ...if it makes sense for you to will that everyone act from your maxim. This is a kind of test.
  • Lying fails the test. There is a logical contradiction between the maxim of truth telling and maxim of lying. You want people to believe you after all.
  • Formulation #2: Act in such a way that you treat humanity... always as an end and never simply as a means. Requires respect of others as source of rational planning.
  • Are we using people only as an end when we get services from others? Not necessarily. Recall video.
  • Formulation #3: Act as though through your actions you could become a legislator of universal morals. We are examples, contributing to a rational order or not. (Are you on "team Reason"? How do we integrate that with knowledge of morality as a system of evolved social behaviors?)
  • Rationalism: Kant thinks we can all agree, in principle, to promote the idea of the world as a place for rational beings.

SW1 Evolved Morality (600 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 600 word maximum answer to the following question by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: How does evolution shape moral social behaviors in animals and in species like us? Is there good reason to think that some moral social behaviors or morality itself is a product of evolution? Present Sapolsky's answers to these questions in a detailed and well organized short essay (400-450). Then raise and address a critical question you have about these ideas (150-200), drawing, if you wish, on the short writing, Alfino "Defining Morality and Values" (Do not reproduce the questions in your answer, but write a continuous essay that addresses both questions.)
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: EvolvedMorality.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "1 - Points - SW1" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow and Content areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, open the file called "#Key.xls" in the shared folder. You will see a worksheet with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. Find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work below your animal name. If you get to the bottom of the list before reaching 4 animals, go to the top of the list and continue.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. Submit the form once for each review.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go back to the key and review the next animal's paper, continuing until you get four reviews. Do not review more than four papers.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, most of my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores, plus or minus.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [9]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You must do the back evaluation to receive credit for the whole assignment. Failing to give back-evaluations unfairly affects other classmates.
  • Back evaluations are due TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.

8: SEP 21


  • Hibbing, Chapter 4: Drunk Flies and Salad Greens (89-96) (7)
  • Hibbing, Chapter 5: Do You See What I See? (30)

In-class content

  • Comment on "seeing" the standard theories in Ethics News!!
  • Small group discussion of SW1: share strategies, outlines, verbally

Hibbing, Chapter 4: Drunk Flies and Salad Greens (89-96)

  • From Fall2020 Philosophy of food, Food News!:
  • Are there Trump and Biden fridges? [10]
  • Neuropolitics as focus of research [11]
  • Note this "conceptual point": Point about fruit flies: taste for glycerol has biological basis, manipulable, yet we'd say the fly "likes" beer. POINT: Variation in human preferences yet also biologically instantiated. They are still your preferences even if (especially if?) biologically instantiated. Focus on this chapter: taste/prefs diffs of conservatives/liberals, their basis, connection to politics. Later, cars, stocks, etc.
  • Note also that they are acknowledging great variation in preferences. Not reductive.
  • Obama's arugula faux pas. Hunch.com studies (note problems): supports stereotype. 92: preferences not random in a population IPhone users and Rice Krisppie eaters.
  • Hibbing et al research 93-4: favorite meal v. new dish. expanded preference research to: new experiences, humour, fiction, art, prefs in poetry, living spaces.
  • Market research in politics: mentions RNC research: Conservatives favor Porsches vs. Volvos. Conservatives more brand loyal. Favor different investments.

Hibbing, Chapter 5: Do You See What I See?

  • Attention Studies research on Political difference:
  • Rorschach tests. seem to trigger different attentional and other biases.
  • Claim in this chapter: Differences in political temperament are tied to differences in a variety of perception and procession patterns prompted by stimuli. Liberals and conservatives see the world differently.
  • The Eyes Have it
  • Eye movement research - gaze cuing: gaze cuing test reveal sensitivity to social cues for everyone. Everyone is influenced by the gaze direction on the face. But these are averages. lots of variation.
  • research question: Are liberals more susceptible to gaze cuing than conservatives? Yes. liberals slow down under miscuing, but not conservatives. liberals are more sensitive to social context, conservatives to rules. 121: not necessarily one better than the other. But, interestingly (122) conservatives and liberals prefer their own attentional biases (at least weakly)! (Speculate here.)
  • Fitting Round Pigs into Square Holes 122
  • Categorization as Cognitive Temperament: tests allow us to see variations in cognitive temperament. hard categorizers vs. soft. Conservatives / liberals. 124: conservatives more likely to lock onto a task and complete it in a fashion that is both definitive and consistent with instructions.
  • Our Thoughts are Our Own - Or Are they?
  • Cognitive Processing of + and - content. Italian researcher Luciana Carraro, why do some people tend to pay attention to negative words over positive words? Used a Stroop Task measuring delay in reporting font color of negative words. Strong correlation with political orientation. "conservatives have a strong vigilence toward negative stimuli." Wasn't so much the valuation placed on negative words, but that negative stimuli triggered more attentional resources.
  • [We can also associate this result with other research suggesting conservatives have better awareness of "threat detection". Not surprisingly, our military skews conservative, while the academy skews liberal — people drawn to research may be motivated by neophilia.]
  • Same researchers did a Dot Probe Test (measuring speed in identifying a gray dot on a positive or negative image. Speed increases with attentional disposition toward the stimuli). Liberals a bit quicker with positive images, conservatives with negative.
  • Hibbing et. al. wanted to replicate the Italian research. Used a Flanker Task. (measuring speed in reporting a feature of an image when flanked by two images congruent or incongruent to the main image. Assumption is that the less you are slowed down by incongruence, the more attentional resources you had for the image.) Replicated typical results: we are all faster with angry faces, for example. Conservative less impacted by the angry faces. Both groups reacted the same to happy faces.
  • What Are You Looking At? 129
  • Eye tracking attentional studies - dwell time. Their research measured "dwell time" - time spent looking at an image. In a study, subjects are shown a group of images. General bias toward negative images. Theorized as having survival value. Conservatives spend a lot more time on negative images and quick to fix on negative images. Some weak evidence that liberals focus more on positive images, but sig. results concerned differentials.
  • Perception is Reality -- But is it real? 133
  • Since liberals and conservatives value positive and negative images in the same way, you might conclude that they see the same world but pay attention to parts of it with different degrees of interest or attention. But Hibbing et. al. are not so sure. In a study, they asked libs and cons to evaluate pos/negly their view of the status quo on six policy dimensions (134). They seem to assess the reality differently, they see different policies at work in the same society, not just attending more to some stimuli. Political difference might not be difference in preference, but in perception.
  • They also did some research on ranking degree of negativity of images and, unlike the Italian research, conservatives did rank negative images more negatively. In another study (135-6), researchers (Vigil) found that conservatives ranked faces as more dominant and threatening than liberals. [Interesting that in both the 1918 pandemic and today's, conservatives resisted mask wearing. Nice coincidence with today's bizarre mask politics story.]
  • You're full of Beans
  • 'Cognitive style in exploration - BeanFest' -- a research game in which test subjects try to earn points by deciding whether to accept or reject a bean with an unknown point value. Based on personality, some subjects are more exploratory (accept more beans and get more information), while others are conservative. Political orientation also predicts strategy. Shook and Fazio see the result as indicative of differences in data acquisition strategies and learning styles. Interesting follow-up analysis based on giving test subjects a "final exam" on the bean values. Similar scores, but different patterns of classification.
  • 139: good summary paragraph: "New bean? What the hell, say the liberals, let's give it a whirl" Roughly equal scores on the game and exam.
  • exploratory behavior and related differences in valuing everyday ethical situations, like forgetting to return a CD. Can you think of a time you attached a judgement to a friend's behavior and then realized it was part of a larger pattern connected to their identity? Being late, tidy, calling back......
  • Differing attitudes toward science and religion. No surprise that science denial comes from the right. Partial effect of our cognitive styles. note p. 140.

9: SEP 26


  • Robert Sapolsky, C 13, "Morality" pp. 483-493
  • Haidt, Chapter 6, "Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind" (112-127 15)


  • Rubric Training: Reminder on Norming Scores, Process for Peer Review, & Giving Peer Criticism

Reminder on Norming Scores

  • We'll take a look at the numbers associated with the two rubric areas you are evaluating.
  • In each rubric area, start reading the essay by thinking of a “5” as “pretty good, no obvious problems”. As you encounter difficulties in writing or content, start to lower your numeric assessment. If you start to be impressed by the writing or content, raise your estimate.
  • There may not be any 1s or 2s (though it is possible - look at the semantic cues in the rubric). Maybe some 3s and definitely 4s. Likewise, 7s should be pretty scarce (let yourself be really impressed before giving a 7).

Process for Peer Review

  • I will send a link to everyone who turned in the assignment. Do not share this link as a few students may still be working on their assignment.
  • Use that link to open the file “#Key for Peer Review - Saints and Animals”. Find your Saint name. The animal on that row is your animal pseudonym for this assignment. You will review the next four animals, looping to the top of the list if necessary. Show examples.
  • Note: Some animals may be missing. Wait a few days for them. If they do not arrive, go to the next animal on the list and review it. Continue until you have reviewed 4 animals.

Giving Peer Criticism

  • The Goal: Giving criticism someone would want to consider.
  • You are only asked to write two or three sentences of comments, so choose wisely!
  • Give gentle criticisms that focus on your experience as a reader:
  • "I'm having trouble understanding this sentence" vs. "This sentence makes no sense!"
  • "I think more attention could have been paid to X vs. "You totally ignored the prompt!
  • Wrap a criticism with an affirmation or positive comment
  • "You cover the prompt pretty well, but you might have said more about x (or, I found y a bit of a digression)"
  • "Some interesting discussion here, esp about x, but you didn't address the prompt very completely ...."
  • General and specific -- Ok to identify general problem with the writing, but giving examples of the problem or potential solutions.
  • I found some of your sentences hard to follow. E.g. "I think that the main ...." was a bit redundant.
  • I thought the flow was generally good, but in paragraph 2 the second and third sentence seem to go in different directions.
  • Also avoid: Great Work! Score 4.

Sapolsky. Behave. C 13, 483-493

  • Origins of Social/Moral Intuitions in Babies and Monkeys and Chimps
  • More infant morality:
  • weigh commission more than ommision - infants track commission better than ommission, as in adults.
  • Pro-sociality - helper puppet studies, (watch previous YouTubes)
  • Punishment - sweets go to helper puppets
  • Tracks secondary punishment - secondary friends study - Babies prefer secondary puppets who were nice to nice puppets and punished bad puppets.
  • Capuchin monkey study (deWaal) - "monkey fairness". (demonstrated also with macaques monkeys, crows, ravens, and dogs), details on 485. google "crows solving puzzles" or "elephants solving puzzles" animals are much more intelligent than we have historically understood. [12] “Inequity aversion”
  • Chimp version of Ultimatum Game - in the deWaal version, chimps tend toward equity unless the proposer can give the token directly to the grape dispensers. 486
  • "other regarding preferences" (Does the animal show awareness of other's preferences?) in monkeys, but not in chimps!
  • Keep this in mind the next time you are thinking about whether to cooperate with a chimp!
  • some evidence of "solidarity" in one inequity study the advantaged monkey (the one who gets grapes) stops working as well.
  • Interesting comment: human morality transcends species boundary. starts before us.
  • Exemptions for testifying against relatives and vmPFC patients who will trade relatives in Trolley situations.
  • vmPFC damaged patient will sacrifice a relative to save four non-relatives.
  • Interesting note about criminal law exemptions. Why do we let family members avoid testifying against each other.
  • Context: Neuroscience of the Trolley Problem and "Intuition discounting"
  • dlPFC (focused on reasoning) in lever condition and vmPFC (focused on emotional information processing) in bridge condition. Correlation of vmPFC activation with likelihood of not pushing the guy of the bridge.
  • Greene's hypothesis: not so much because it is "up close and personal" as we speculated, but in lever condition the killing of the one is a side-effect. In bridge condition, its because of the killing. Different kinds of intentionality. Ok for most people if you push someone out of the way on your way to the lever. Not intentional killing.
  • Why this is so cool: This research helps us think about the particular cognitive adaptation we have about killing. It's not just something that excites the brain because "it's up close and personal", it seems to involve a concept of intentionality, and hence Theory of Mind is somehow instantiated in our brains. Coincides with the baby-puppet studies.
  • Loop condition -- you know you have to kill the person on the side track, should be like bridge condition, but test subjects match lever condition, roughly.
  • Hypothesis: Intuitions are local; heavily discounted for time and space. (Think of other examples of this.) Stories in which your reaction to something changes when you learn where it happens. Another cognitive adaptation. Is it help to follow it all the time, or should we be more concerned about this one? (quick group chat)
  • Related point about proximity - leave money around vs. cokes. Cokes disappear. One step from money and the rationalization is easier. (Also in Ariely research) Singer's pool scenario vs. sending money for absolute poverty relief.
  • Priming study on cheating involving bankers. 492 - shows "intuition discounting" when primed to think about work identity. more cheating the more primed about "role" - "It's not me"...
  • But this circumstance is different...
  • Under stress subjects make more egoistic, rationalizing judgments regarding emotional moral dilemmas.
  • [this is not mentioned in the text, but it is what he is talking about: the Fundamental Attribution Error - neuro-evidence for the Fundamental Attribution Error [13]
  • Short version: We judge ourselves by internal motives and others by external actions. Our failings/successes elicit shame/pride while others' elicit anger and indignation. The FAE suggests that we explain our own failures more generously than the failures of others. We offer ourselves excuses (inner lawyer) but are biased toward inferring bad intent from others. (Think of fitness advantage for this bias.)

Haidt, Chapter 6, "Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind"

  • Analogy of moral sense to taste sense. "the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors"
  • Unpacking the metaphor:
  • Places where our sensitivities to underlying value perception have depth from evolution, but have flexibility or plasticity from the "big brain", which allows for shaping within culture and retriggering.
  • Morality is rich, not reducible to one taste. A way of perceiving the world. against moral monism
  • Like cuisines, there is variation, but within a range.
  • Mentions Enlightenment approaches, again: argument against the reductive project of philosophical ethics 113-114. ethics more like taste than science.
  • Hume's three way battle: Enlightenment thinkers united in rejecting revelation as basis of morality, but divided between an transcendent view of reason as the basis (Kant) or the view that morality is part of our nature (Hume, Darwin, etc.). Hume's empiricism. also for him, morality is like taste
  • Autism argument: Bentham (utlitarianism), Kant (deontology). Think about the person who can push the fat guy.
  • Bentham told us to use arithmetic, Kant logic, to resolve moral problems. Note Bentham image and eccentric ideas. Baron-Cohen article on Bentham as having Asperger's Syndrome (part of the autism range). Kant also a solitary. Just saying. clarify point of analysis. not ad hominem. part of Enlightenment philosophy's rationalism -- a retreat from observation.
  • The x/y axis on page 117 shows a kind of "personality space" that could be used to locate Enlightenment rationalists. (Note that Haidt is looking at the psychology of the philosopher for clues about the type of theory they might have!)
  • Major global religious and ethical culture identifies virtues that seem to respond to similar basic problems of social life.
  • Avoiding bad evolutionary theory or evolutionary psychology: "just so stories" -- range of virtues suggested "receptors", but for what? the virtue? some underlying response to a problem-type?
  • Moral taste receptors found in history of long standing challenges and advantages of social life. The "moral foundations" in Haidt's theory just are the evolved psychological centers of evaluation that make up moral consciousness for humans.
  • Modularity in evolutionary psychology, centers of focus, like perceptual vs. language systems. Sperber and Hirshfield: "snake detector" - note on deception/detection in biology/nature. responses to red, Hyperactive agency detection.
  • See chart, from shared folder: C F L A S: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation
  • Work through chart. Note how the "adaptive challenges" are some of the things we have been reading research on.
  • Original vs. current triggers, 123 Reason/Intuition
  • Small group discussion: Try to find examples from everyday life of events do or would trigger each of these foundations. Consider either real cases of people you know and the things they say or examples from general knowledge, or even hypothetical examples. For example:
  • You and your friends all worry about COVID cases, but some more than others. Might be observing the Care/Harm trigger, or Sanctity/Degradation.
  • You and your friends all occasionally enjoy risqué humor, but you are uncomfortable listening to people talk about intimate things like sex casually. Maybe you have a different sanctity trigger.
  • You hear someone talk uncharitably about someone who sees them as a good friend. You are triggered for disloyalty.
  • You and a co-worker agree that your boss is a bit full of himself. You find yourself pushing back, but your co-worker just ignores his boorish behavior. You have different triggers for authority and subversion.
  • You like Tucker Carlson, but then you see that one of his pro-Putin shows is being run on Russian TV along with Trump’s and Pompeo’s praise for the warmongering dictator. It feels like betrayal.
  • Focus on both ways that we are all triggered and ways that we are differentially triggered.

10: SEP 28


In-class content

  • Libertarianism as a moral and political theory

Libertarianism as a moral and political theory

  • Libertarianism in Six Minutes (notes)
  • Historical look: Libertarianism comes out of radical emancipatory politics.
  • 17th century resistance to oppressive conditions. “Rent seekers”. Payne. "Those who pay taxes & those who live on taxes."
  • Similar to socialism and capitalism, a view about what is fair.
  • "Libertarianism originated as a form of left-wing politics such as anti-authoritarian and anti-state socialists like anarchists,[6] especially social anarchists,[7] but more generally libertarian communists/Marxists and libertarian socialists." (from wiki).
  • US libertarianism closer to free market capitalism vs. European meaning is more socialist. (Note: Political ideas can take multiple forms in relation to conservative/liberal.)
  • Assumption of natural harmony among productive people with liberty of contract. Laws limited to protection and protection of natural rights. Anything more violates the "Non-aggressive principle". No regulation of market. Low social spending - people are responsible for themselves and their families. Taxes are presumed to be coercive and confiscatory.
  • Conservative libertarian theorist, Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia: "Night watchman" state. (Not so close to anarchy, except consistent with strong sense of public order.)
  • Problems identified in Thought Monkey Youtube:
  • No libertarian candidates on the national stage in two party state.
  • No successful libertarian states. No one's tried.
  • Monopolies, poverty. (We have extraordinarily high inequality right now.)
  • Doesn’t solve conflicts bt “Rentier” and propertyless. (Consider current inflationary rental markets.)
  • No guarantee that you won’t “bleed out in the street” for lack of healthcare.
  • Non-aggression principle unlikely in free market. Markets can be quite aggressive. Putting people out of their homes. Eviction.
  • Assumes increase in wealth produces increase in happiness (Easterlin paradox - comes up in Happiness class)
  • Environmental concerns require collective action, libertarians have idealistic response: people will buy from sustainable companies with coercion.
  • Summing up:
  • (US conservative) Libertarianism: fundamental concern with human freedom understood as avoidance of coercion; minimal state; some morals legislation - often anti-abortion; no redistribution of income or wealth. Strong concern with equality of liberty and avoidance of oppression, understood as forced labor.
  • Basic intuition for conservative libertarianism: Taxation (beyond minimal state functions) is a form of forced labor. Only legitimate for a narrow range of goals that we mutually benefit from, such as defense.
  • (US Liberal) Libertarianism: Also focused on freedom, especially regarding respect for identity differences and private behaviors (favors decriminalization/legalization of drugs), but retains some of the original left-wing concerns of socialism. ::*Liberal Libertarianism has a more material interpretation of rights.
  • Liberty includes "bodily autonomy" - control of reproductive choices, choices about whom to be intimate with
  • Are you really free if you are living on the street?
  • Are you really free if you are discriminated against?
  • Are you really free if you work full time and can't afford to take care of basic needs?
  • To be fair, conservative libertarians have responses to these challenges: Charity, persuasion, voluntary methods.
  • Basic intuition for liberal libertarianism: Government isn't the only source of coercion. Abstract negative liberty (freedom from coercion) doesn't full describe liberty. Positive liberty requires protection for specific behaviors and choices.

Small Group Discussion

  • In your small group discussion, explore the difference between negative liberty (freedom from government coercion) and positive liberty (guarantees of basic liberties protecting bodily autonomy and privacy). Can you see both natural affinities between conservative and liberal libertarians and some theoretical tensions?
  • Consider the following list of potential liberty violations. Use the list diagnositically to see how strong your libertarian intuitions are and where they tend to take you?
  • Examples of liberty concerns:
  • A law allowing discrimination against women for hiring to jobs deemed too hard for women.
  • Pumping a person’s stomach for drugs as part of a criminal investigation.
  • Forced sterilization, forced reproduction (compelling a woman to carry a baby to term).
  • A law prohibiting vasectomies, or requiring men to reverse them.
  • A law allowing anyone doubting a student athlete’s eligibility for a team sport to demand “genital inspection”
  • A law prohibiting parents from receiving gender affirming care from a physician.
  • A law requiring you to register your name with the state before viewing pornography.
  • A law prohibiting tattoos.
  • Allowing people to consume non-life threatening recreational drugs.
  • Allowing people to consume hard or dangerous drugs. (Drugs that carry a risk of overdose.)
  • A law requiring end of life medical care against a person’s wishes.
  • A law requiring blood donations.
  • A law prohibiting home schooling.

Hibbing, Ch 6, Different Slates

  • Introductory stuff
  • Story of Phineas Gage -- 1848 -- early example of biology and personality change.
  • Oliver Sachs work.
  • 149: lobotomies.
  • 149: Lots of brain diffs are correlated to non-pathological conditions as well. (mention reading and face recognition)
  • 150: Some Parkinson's drugs can trigger behavioral changes like addictions and gambling.
  • Could some brain diffs correlate with political orientation? 150
  • I Feel it in my Gut
  • Psychophysiology - the idea that we experience the world partly through our physiology. -- emotions as "action dispositions" -- we also trigger each other
  • 151: physiology of anger (it’s getting you ready to fight or flee), stress (digress on cortisol), polygraph - example of measuring autonomic functions. Mention "negative partisanship" here. “Emotional contagion” in kids (also adults).
  • 151: how emotional states are instantiated in neural and physiological activity.
  • CNS - central nervous system (head and spine) ANS - Autonomic Nervous system. Within ANS - SNS (sympathetic) "fight or flight" and PNS (parasympathetic) "rest and digest" activation reduces heart rate, sends blood to the gut.
  • 153: from Hibbing's lab: patterns of activation are pretty stable. Some people are agitated by dark rooms and loud noises. Same years later.
  • Politics on and in the Brain (two studies)
  • Kanai and Rees MRI study -- looking at ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) and amygdala of test subject in an MRI. ACC activated by tasks involving error detection and conflict resolution -- results on 156: found correlation between liberalism and size of ACC. Bigger. However, as for the amygdala (which is involved in face recog and emotion regulation), conservatives have bigger amygdalas (156: more active in face recognition and threat detection (also C5) . (Mention history of mask wearing and conservatism.)
  • Note these correlations increase by degree of partisanship.

  • Note connection to BeanFest.
  • 157: caution in reading these results. Still, you can predict political orientation from brain differences.
  • Amodio 2007: Specific brain wave amplitude diff that varied by pol. orientation. Basically, liberals have strong ACC activity spikes in response to error detection in the go/no go task. 155.
  • Back to Kain and Rees research: bigger amygdalas of conservatives help with (and are likely an effect of) heightened sensitivity to face recognition and threat detection. (Fits with the attentional studies of Chap 5). (Try to find some empathy for conservatives who don't like masks!)
  • Politics Makes Me Sweat
  • EDA studies -- electrodermal activity -- skin conductivity, especially as it varies with sweat. Simple way of measuring SNS activity. SNS activity also triggers focused attention. Largely unconscious. Within SNS, eccrine glands are particularly responsive to internal psychological states. Concentrated in the palms of our hands.
  • SNS not only about “fight or flight” but also activated when we need to pay attention or think hard.
  • Study from Hibbing in 2008 (161): EDA activity correlated to threatening images and conservative policy positions on "socially protective policies" (those involving a threat to individual or group). "People more physiologically responsive to threat stimuli (images) were more likely to support policies aimed at reducing or addressing threats to the social status quo" 161. The more conservative, the more sweat (and vice versa).
  • 2nd Hibbing lab study: Known that conservatives have stronger triggers for disgust/impurity. Sexual issues in politics, for example, but also incest taboo and bad food. 162: more on disgust -- nature's way of helping us avoid bad things (but not perfect).
  • EDA disgust studies line up with fart spray studies. Morality and smell are connected.
  • Hibbing EDA study 163: disaggregate data and its the sex-issues driving the SNS response.
  • EDA studies have shown increase activity around inter-racial interactions. Note: resisting preferential race policy needn't be racist, could be based on strong value on equal treatment. But it could be racist. Very hard to tell the diff in surveys since open racism isn't cool.
  • Practical issue: studies showing unconscious response to group affiliation. SNS activates in presence of politically relevant out-groups. It could be that conservative vs. liberal racists are having different physiological reactions to out groups.
  • French study on response to out-groups. 165 Verbal reports non-racist, but EDA showed activation for non-white image. (Our bodies can betray us.) (Unconscious racism? At least unconscious activation of potential threat.)
  • Emory study 165 - application bias study. Test subjects with higher SNS activation show greater preference for white applicants.
  • In Your Face Politics
  • Studies assessing our ability to determine political orientation from faces (not including hair or dress). Proxies for this judgement could include "emotional expressivity" (168), which Liberals score higher on in "Berkeley Expressivity Questionaire". Older and more recent studies suggest we can sort faces by political orientation better than chance.
  • Your face is communicating, pretty much all the time..... "the visual Twitter accounts of our nervous system"167 Not just communicating emotion, but group membership.
  • Looking for physiological markers of facial signaling or pol. orientation. Drawing on Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire (validated instrument correlating expressivity and liberalism). (Note that this fact pattern would explain ability to recognize group affiliation.)
  • Hibbing study involving the facial muscle corrugator supercilii" (the eybrow furrowing muscle). Test subjects surveyed on political orientation and then shown pos/neg stimuli while corrugato supercilii is measured. Females of all pol. orientations more expressive than males. Liberal males about as expressive as females. (Apologies to macho liberal guys!) Conservative males were distinctive for lack of emotional expressivity. (Clint Eastwood v Alan Alda.)

Small Group Discussion on Physio-politics / Neuropolitics

  • Practical Problem: How should physio-politics affect our conversation practices in moral and political discussion and experience? What are the lessons? What values should we adopt?
  • If "physio-politics" is real, then we're all having somewhat different physiological reactions to news, issues, and each other.
  • If the "social epistemology" hypothesis from Haidt is true, then we are "smarter together" and we need to make use of our differences.

11: OCT 3


  • Haidt, Chapter 7, "The Moral Foundations of Politics" (34)

In-class Topics

  • Update on SW1 grading, in progress....
  • Method Point: Layers of Explanation
  • Practical Advice for better values conversations
  • Meet Joe Henrich, Culutural Evolutionary Theorist [14]

Practical advice for better political and moral discussion in light of physio-politics

  • We'll be thinking about the practical advice that follows from our research on political difference more later in the term. Here we just pause to make a few inferences from Hibbing et al's "physio-politics"
  • Model exploratory thought. (How do you do that, specifically?)
  • Avoid escalation of physiological responses. (How do you do that, specifically?)
  • Acknowledge insight across the spectrum.
  • Cultivate diverse relationships if possible.
  • Avoid pejorative labels.
  • Views can change even if orientations don't.
  • Accept difference that won't change, focus on pragmatics and cooperation on issues.
  • Humor, if possible. Self-effacing first.
  • Acknowledge physio-politics in the discussion.
  • Don't "sugar coat" differences. (Be true to yourself.)

Haidt, Chapter 7, "The Moral Foundations of Politics"

  • Homo economicus vs. Homo sapiens -- column a b -- shows costs of sapiens psych. commitments "taste buds"
  • Note on Innateness and Determinism: "first draft" metaphor; experience revises - pre-wired not hard-wired. innate without being universal. (Note this is the same anti-determinism disclaimer we got from Hibbing & Co.)
  • Notes on each foundation:
  • Care/Harm -- evolutionary story of asymmetry between m/f interests/strategies in reproduction, attachment theory (read def). current triggers. Baby Max and stuffed animals -- triggers.
  • Implicit theory about "re-triggering" note red flag. unexplained. Consider plausibility.
  • Fairness/Cheating -- We know we incur obligation when accepting favors. So,... Trivers and reciprocal altruism. "tit for tat" ; equality vs. proportionality. Original and current problem is to build coalitions (social networks) without being suckered (exploited). Focus on your experience of cooperation, trust, and defection (which could just be declining cooperation). Public goods game research also fits here. Libs think of fairness more in terms of equality, conservatives more about proportionality.
  • Loyalty/Betrayal -- Tribalism in story of Eagles/Rattlers. liberals experience low emphasis here; note claim that this is gendered 139. sports groupishness is a current trigger. connected to capacity for violence. Liberals can come across as disloyal when they think they are just being critical. Note current culture conflicts over confederate symbols and statues fits here.
  • Authority/Subversion -- Cab driver story. Hierarchy in animal and human society; liberals experience this differently also; note cultural work accomplished by the "control role" -- suppression of violence that would occur without hierarchy. Alan Fiske's work on "Authority Ranking" -- suggest legit recognition of difference and, importantly, not just submission. Authority relationships are a two way street (maybe esp for conservs?). Tendency to see UN and international agreements as vote dilution, loss of sov. (Digressive topic: Should we mark authority relationships more?)
  • Sanctity/Degradation -- Miewes-Brandes horror. Ev.story: omnivores challenge is to spot foul food and disease (pathogens, parasites). (Being an omnivore is messy. One should not be surprised to find that vegetarians often appreciate the cleanliness of their diet.) Omnivores dilemma -- benefit from being able to eat wide range of foods, but need to distinguish risky from safe. neophilia and neophobia. Images of chastity in religion and public debate. understanding culture wars. The ability to “sanctify” something (bodies, environment, principles) is an important current trigger.

Point on Method in the Course: "Layers of Explanation" or "Frames"

  • Consider the "disciplinary" layers we have introduced in our study of ethics:
  • 1. The Biological - Selection mechanisms, cooperation, groupishness, theory of mind, all work to create a "moral/social" world in which reputation matters and values help us solve problems, like being taken for a sucker.
  • 2. The Psychological - System 1 give lots of evidence of an evolved psychology, with "modules" around specific evolutionary "value problems" (moral problems). C F L A S
  • 3. The Political - Physio-politics provides evidence of differences among us in cognitive attention, especially to social cues and threats, but also to policy and our view of society. Many of these differences correlate somewhat with political orientation. Liberalism and conservatism do not change much over time, and seem tied to personality. (More to come in this story: How orientation interacts with "issue commitment". Strategies for non-polarized interaction on political issues.)
  • 4. The Cultural - Differences between cultures, including, for example the remarkable emergence of WEIRD culture. This reading is coming up in the next couple of weeks. (Joe Henrich, The Weirdest People on Earth) literacy and the brain, Christianity as a driver of culture (the Marriage and Family Plan, impersonal honesty and sociality, etc.). Some remarkable new explanations from a field only 2-3 decades old.

12: OCT 5


  • Hibbing, John R., Kevin Smith, and John R. Alford, Predisposed, Chapter 2, "Getting Into Bedrock with Politics". (26)

Hibbing, et. al. Predisposed Chapter 2

  • Begins with allegations that universities are left-biased. Points out counterexample in Russell. Students can be more radical than even lefty faculty. City college story. 34ff: ironically its most lasting intellectual movement was neoconservatism.
  • Point of story:
  • 1) Colleges' political orientations have little predictable effect on their students. (Think about this in relationship to Gonzaga.)
  • 2) Politics and political beliefs are fungible, change dep on time and place. No discussions these days of Stalin-Trotskyism. Or ADA, which conservatisms opposed. True, issues and labels change, but, acc to Hibbing et al, humans vary in orientation, politics is, at its core, dealing with a constant problem, invariable. Found in "bedrock social dilemmas" (BSDs).
  • Back to Aristotle
  • "Man" is by nature political. -- Politics deep in our nature. But A also speculated that town life, while natural, was not original. An achievement of sorts, not wholly natural.
  • Evidence: GWAS (Gene wide association studies) studies suggest more influence from gene difference on political orientation than economic prefs.
  • Politics and Mating: Political orientation is one of the top correlate predicting mate selection. (39). We do look for diff personality traits in a partner, but not when it comes to pol orientation (or drinking behavior and religion!). Considers two objections: mates become similar over time or the correlation is an effect of the selection pool "social homogamy" But no sign of convergence of orientation over time of relationship (but views on gender roles tend to diverge! Nota bene!). Studies controlling for demographic factors undermine second objection.
  • Politics is connected to willingness to punish political difference. (Which helps explain our sensitivity to "political prosecution".) 40-41.
  • Differences Galore?
  • Need to separate issues, labels, and bedrock social dilemmas.
  • Issues arise naturally in the society, but can also be "promoted" by actors and parties.
  • Labels distinguish groups contesting issues. They organize approaches to issues by orientation. Practically, political parties do this, but also media. Labels and parties shift over time, presumably as they compete for voters (or, "package them".)
  • ”Labels are simply the vocabulary employed to describe the reasonably systematic orientations toward issues that float around a polity at a given time.” 41
  • Label "liberal" - today means mildly libertarian, but liberal economic policy isn't libertarian at all (involves income transfer). Mentions historical origin of Left/Right. Generally, liberals are more about equality and tolerance, but communists can be authoritarian. Generally, conservatives focus on authority, hierarchy, and order (more than libs), but they often defend rights in ways that make common cause with liberals (protections from the gov't, free speech).
  • Conclusion they are resisting: (43): political beliefs are so multidimensional and variable that left and right don't have any stable meaning. Ideology is fluid, but there are universals (regarding BSDs).
  • Commonality Reigns! Political Universals
  • Bedrock social dilemmas (BSD): "core preferences about the organization, structure, and conduct of mass social life" 44
  • BSDS: leadership, decision-making, resource distribution, punishment, protection, and orientation to tradition vs change.
  • Questions associated with BSDs: How should we make decisions? What rules to follow? What do we do with rule violators? Should we try something new or stick with tradition?
  • Predispositions defined: political orientations that are biologically instantiated. these differences are more stable than labels and issues.
  • Example of conceptual framework at work: attitudes toward military intervention. tells the story of changing conservative views of intervention, Lindbergh and the AFC. Late 20th century conservatives were interventionists (commie domino theory), but early century conservatives were isolationists. These changes make sense in relation to the bedrock challenge of dealing with external threats. Shifting analysis of threats can change policy 180 degrees. 48: Pearl Harbor!
  • Example 2: Conservatives softening on immigration after electoral defeats in 2012. Early politics leading to DACA? Conservatives still consistently more suspicious of out groups. (heightened threat detection)
  • Note the possibilities: Same view of issue, different ideologies expressing different orientations (Vietnam). Same orientation expressed in different ideologies and different positions on issues (Conservative isolationism before/after Pearl Harbor).
  • Key point in the theory is that these "bedrock dilemmas" occur once cities become too large for people to know each other. Interesting point: We had to use principles to express ourselves about these BSDs because we couldn't influence each other directly.
  • "Society works best when..."
  • Bold thesis: looking for universality as: consistent differences across time and culture. Example: Optimates and populares in Ancient Greece.
  • Left and right have deep associations. left handed suspect.
  • History of research on connection between core preferences on leadership, defense, punishment of norm violators, devotion to traditional behavioral standards, distribution of resources. Laponce. Haidt's MFT.
  • Look at the 4BSDs in relations to Haidt's MFT:
  • 1. Adherence to tradition. (Neophobia/philia)
  • 2. Treatment of outgroups and rule breakers (cooperation, defection, threat) (C, F, L)
  • 3. Role of group/individual (freeriding, self-interest, social commitment) (F, L)
  • 4. Authority and Leadership (Legitimate authority and hierarchy) (A)
  • "Society works best Index" 2007 research "Predicted issue attitudes, ideological self-placement, and party identification with astonishing accuracy" .6 correlation. Pursuing international research with SWB. Note this is "synchronous" research. A snapshot of both BSD and Issue orientation. We will see similar empirical support for the MFT in Haidt, C8.

13: OCT 10: Some Cultural Evolutionary Theory


  • Henrich, Joe. Prelude and Chapter 1, "WEIRD Psychology" from The WEIRDEST People in the World (21-58)
  • Rawls' Theory of Justice
  • 16 minute video focsued on Rawls: [15].
  • 6 minute video, PBS series: [16]


  • Rawls' Theory of Justice
  • Take home personal survey: What's your Justice Number?

Henrich, "WEIRD Psychology," from The Weirdest People on Earth"

  • Prelude: Your Brain has been modified by culture
  • Example of how reading alters brains. "Literacy thus provides an example of how culture can change people biologically independent of any genetic differences."
  • The ‘letterbox’ in your brain
  • Literacy in Western Europe - a “cultural package” that includes abilities, but also attitudes toward education, technologies of literacy like printing.
  • Note how a “culture of literacy” can cut across other cultures. Right hemisphere bias in facial recognition common to university students across cultures.
  • 1517: Protestantism requires literacy. "sola scriptura"
  • Showing causal relationship with "quasi-experimental" method "For every 100 km traveled from Wittenberg, percentage of Protestants dropped 10%. Like a "dosage". Also drove female literacy and public education.
  • Also seen in literacy rates of Catholic and Prot missionaries to Africa: Protestant missions produce more literacy.
  • Point of his book, “The WEIRDEST People in the World,”: WEIRD psychology is the result of a set of cultural adaptations promoted by the Catholic church.
  • The movement of “sola scriptura” led to an explosion of literacy, which had numerous cultural effects, but the bigger story of how we became WEIRD starts with the Catholic Churches’ “Marriage and Family Plan” (Chapter 1).
  • Chapter 1: WEIRD Psychology
  • WEIRD: individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. Tends to look for universal categories, analytic. patient, takes plesure in hard work, sticks to imparial rules or principles, guilt vs. shame
  • Major Claim: WEIRD psychology is a product of 600-1000 years of the Catholic Church's modification of our psychology through its "Marriage and Family Plan".
  • Really, who are you?
  • "Who Am I? task by culture
  • Mapping the Individualism Complex vs. Kin-based institutions
  • Might be obligated to avenge a murder,
  • Prohibited from marrying a stranger / privileged to marry mother’s brother’s daughters.
  • Responsible to carry out expensive ancestor rituals.
  • Liable for family members crimes.
  • Note the italicized moral terms. Moral culture changes with sociocentrism/individualism, as in Haidt.
  • Contrast on p. 28. In the Industrial World "everyone is shopping for better relationships." Read specific contrasts.
  • Hofstede's scale for measuring individualism/sociocentrism -
  • Economic prosperity and Individualism may be in two way causal relationship.
  • Note caveats to this research on p. 31. 1. As with physio-politics, not say one cultural package is objectively better than another. [Arguably, individualism and markets got us to the crisi of climate change.] 2. As with physio-politics, the categories mask numerous continuous differences.
  • Cultivating the WEIRD self
  • Research showing individualists cultivate "consistency across relationships" vs. kin-based "consistency within relationships”.
  • Dispositionalism - seeing people's behavior as anchored impersonal traits that influence actions across contexts. The Fundamental Attribution Error (33) is a bias of WEIRD people, not a universal cognitive bias. WEIRD people suffer more from cognitive dissonance because of the type of consistency valued in WEIRD culture.
  • Guilt vs. Shame
  • Conformity - Solom Asch's experiments in which confederates give incorrect answers to test conformity. WEIRD cultures show lowest conformity. 37-38.
  • Marshmallows Come to Those Who Wait
  • "Discounting" as a measure of patience - "temporal discounting" widely researched through "choice" studies: "Would you rather X now or X+Y later?" Patience correlated with better socio-economic outcomes. Larger construct: "self-control" "self-regulation - Marshmallow studies. [17]
  • Impersonal Honesty --
  • UN Diplomats' parking violations research. Natural experiment on existing parking violations. Volume of tickets correlates with country's standing on "corruption index".
  • Impersonal Honesty Game, like the Matrix research from Ariely, normed against probability of each die roll. Also correlates with corruption index. (results at p. 44). "quintessentially WEIRD experiment as there is no person affected by the dishonesty. In some cultures, you would be criticized for not taking advantage of the experiment to help your family.
  • Universalism and Non-relationalism -- Research using the "Passengers Dilemma" -- does your friend have a right to expect you to lie to help him evade a parking fine? related results: willingness to give insider information, lie about medical exam to lower insurance rates, write a fake review of a friend's restaurant. Measures also importance of impartial rules
  • Trusting Strangers - "Generalized Trust Question" (GTQ) survey instrument. measures impersonal trust vs. trust in relationship based networks. Norway: 70% Trinidad 4-5% Interesting variation in the US. Northern Italy 49% Sicily 26%. [Interesting discussion of forms of trust. Countries can report high trust on the GTQ, but it may not be impersonal trust. To get at that you have to ask specifically about trusting strangers.]
  • Impersonal Prosociality roughly, "how we feel toward a person who is not tied into our social network" - correlated with national wealth, better government, less corruption, faster innovation.
  • Obsessed with intentions -- Bob/Rob and Andy vignette research. The "Bob" condition involves intent. Barrett and Laurence research. Focus on intentional dishonesty correlates with WEIRD culture. Independent research on Japanese (less focused on intentions), suggests that other factors about Japan's culture affect outcomes.
  • Analytic vs. Holistic thinking. Triad Task. (read 53) Abstract rule-based vs. Functional relationship. Analytics focus on rules, types, continuity. Example: Would you match "rabbit" with "carrot" or "cat"? Possible that even some of the Mapuche's "analytic" answers had holistic reasoning. pig/dog pig/husks. Also, attention and memory studies: East Asians remember background/context better that WEIRD people. Americans track the center of attention.
  • WEIRD also have great endowment effect, overestimate our talents, self-enhance, enjoy making choices.
  • Summary table on p. 56.
  • Henrich's larger argument:
  • The Catholic Church, through it "Marriage and Family Plan" (started around 600 a.d.), started the process that made us WEIRD. See Henrich, C14, "The Dark Matter of History" for summary of the book's argument. (In shared folder.)
  • Movement from kin and clan based European culture, to "voluntary associations (guilds, charter towns, universities) drove the expansion of impersonal markets, and spurred the rapid growth of cities.
  • Key elements of the Church's "Marriage and Family Plan"
  • Monogamous marriages only
  • No kin marriage
  • No arranged marriage
  • Neolocal residence (married couples move out of parents' house)
  • Inheritance by testament
  • Individual property
  • No adoption

Rawls Theory of Justice

  • 16 minute video focused on Rawls: [18].
  • 6 minute video, PBS series: [19]
  • PBS short video on Rawls
  • Justice as fairness - Ancient Greeks: harmony. Range of goals: liberty, caring for needs, etc.
  • Justice is about distribution of goods. “Distributive justice”. Examples: equality, needs, merit (getting what you deserve), Rawls- Justice is fairness. Response to natural inequalities. This is a form of needs based justice. Life is unfair, justice is a remedy for that.
  • Nozick (Libertarian) objects: Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment. Unjust to even out the playing field. As long as we don’t get our stuff by unjust means, we deserve our stuff.
  • Negative rights v positive rights. “Freedom from interference” v “Right to some goods”
  • ”Then and Now” video
  • Rawls’ Theory of Justice 1972
  • Responding to utilitarian views of justice. Criticism of utilitarianism. Might not protect rights sufficiently. Slavery example.
  • Rawls want to mix a rights view with distributive justice. Rights are not directly utilitarian (though possibly indirectly)
  • Original Social Contract tradition. Another Enlightenment philosophical product! See Social Contract wiki.
  • Social contract tradition. Original position. What rules and principles would it be rational to choose?
  • Rawls' basic method: Principles of justice should be chosen by following a kind of thought experiment in which you imagine yourself not knowing specific things about your identity and social circumstances. Adopting this special stance is what Rawls calls the "veil of ignorance" (parallel in Social Contract tradition)
  • Original Position in Rawls' thought: Choosing principles of justice under a "veil of ignorance" (simple intuition about fairness: How do you divide the last piece of cake?
  • Note how this realizes a basic condition of moral thought: neutrality, universalization, fairness.
  • In the original position:
  • You still know: human psychology, human history, economics, the general types of possible situations in which humans can find themselves.
  • You don't know: your place in society, your class, social status, for tu in in natural assets and abilities, sex, race, physical handicaps, generation, social class of our parents, whether you are part of a discriminated group, etc.
  • Note Rawls' argument for choosing things you don't know. He considers them "morally arbitrary." You don't deserve to be treated better or worse for your ethnicity, talents, health status, orientation, etc. Recall historically arbitrary differences like noble birth that we used to treat as morally significant.
  • A conservative theorist might object. If a healthy person can earn more money and the freedom to earn money is a matter of moral consequence, then maybe health isn't morally arbitrary? On the other hand, you might be hard pressed to claim that you “deserve” more money because you had healthier genes. For Rawls, it might still be just for you to earn more, but you should also acknowledge that you are benefiting from “morally arbitrary” features of your existence while others are suffering from morally arbitrary deficits.
  • So, what principles would it be rational to choose?
  • Rawls claims we would choose the following two principles
  • 1) Principle of Equal Liberty: Each person has an equal right to the most extensive liberties compatible with similar liberties for all.
  • Basic liberties 11:46. Play. Freedom from: right to vote, speech, assembly, freedom of thought, property, from arbitrary arrest, from discrimination. Positive: Opportunities, basic education. (Egalitarian about rights.)
  • 2) Difference Principle: Social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged persons, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of equality of opportunity. (Welfare principle for distribution of goods.). “Maximin” strategy maximizing the minimum possible position. Based on a risk calculation. (Note: people have different risk tolerance. Could be a criticism.)
  • The core intuition behind Rawls' approach is that some things are "morally arbitrary". The veil is an attempt to exclude them.

14: OCT 12: Some Cultural Evolutionary Theory


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 13, "Culture, context, public goods games, religion" (493-503) (10)

In-Class Topics

  • Desert and the Social Contract - Small Group Exercise
  • Cultural Relativism, Universalism, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Desert and the Social Contract - Rawls v Libertarian Social Contracts

  • Rawls: It wouldn't be rational for you to risk a social contract in which you are worse off for morally arbitrary conditions (deadbeat parents, sickness, low skills or intelligence, homelessness, etc.). Given the uncertainty of where you might wind up once the veil is lifted, a "rational risk" would be to give up some of your "winnings" if you were in the most advantaged class, in return for the "insurance" of your well-being if you are in the worst off class.
  • Libertarians: It's not my fault if you have problems like bad health or not much of a way to earn a living, and making me help you with them is coercive to me. From my perspective, it's quite arbitrary when government invents new projects or identifies more groups of people to help.
  • This looks like an un-resolvable tension, but let's see how the social contract model can help us with it. Would it be rational for the libertarian to take a chance on a libertarian social contract? Would we place a guarantee of formal liberty above all other possible outcomes?
  • Let's make a list of situations in which we "favor the worst off"
  • Many of the items on your "What's your justice number?" part A.
  • "How's that fair?" - How would you respond to someone who objected, on Libertarian grounds, to the following:
  • Paying to educate other people's kids. (An original objection to mandatory education in the US.)
  • Helping first time homeowners with federally insured mortgages.
  • Student and senior discounts on many things, from concerts to gym memberships.
  • Giving disabled people good parking, among other accomodations.
  • Public works like Riverfront Park, subsidies to get the downtown shopping mall, the cool concrete pedestrian bridge over the railroad?
  • How might we respond to the libertarian social contract theorist? From either a conservative or liberal orientation... Does Rawls have a better analysis. How might a conservative embrace Rawlsian thinking?

Sapolsky, Chapter 13,"Culture, context, public goods games, religion" (493-520)

  • Context, Culture, and Moral Universals
  • given all of the ways our moral judgements can be altered by context and culture, are there universals? Some forms of murder, theft, and sexual misbehavior. The Golden Rule is nearly universal. (Note that it is a basic fairness doctrine and that it’s “indexed” to a view of human nature. Consider again the passenger’s dilemma.)
  • Schweder. autonomy,community, divinity
  • Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory. (A “matrix” is already a way of thinking about “general variables”.)
  • Cooperation and Competition in Public Goods Game research
  • Public goods game research - review experimental model p. 495. Should remind you a bit of Prisoner’s Dilemma, uncertainty is a problem in both cases. Important 2008 research result: Rational choice theory predicts zero contribution to public good. But, research documents consistent prosociality, with some variation by culture.
  • Simple version: sucker's payoff reduces cooperation to zero
  • Punishment version: Robust pro-social results:
  • 1. Everyone is somewhat prosocial. In no culture do people just not contribute.
  • 2. In all cultures, people punish low contributors. (Prosocial or altruistic Punishment)
  • Interesting recent result: Anti-social punishment is also universal, though it's strength varies. Interestingly, the lower the social capital in a country, the higher the rates of antisocial punishment. (Another way to theorize this result - We lose “face” or experience hierarchy in the presence of overly generous people. Not a problem in individualist cultures so much.)
  • Other Public Good research:
  • The Dictator Game (a simple measure of fairness) (Ultimatum game without the option to refuse the division of goods).
  • Two versions of the Ultimatum Game. One with “pay to punish” option. One with 3rd party punishment option.
  • Results: Variables that predict prosocial patterns of play: market integration predicts more pro social behavior (higher offers in Dictator and Ultimatum), community size (more 2nd and 3rd party punishment), religion (predicts great 2nd and 3rd party punishment). 498. Point: We are seeing culturally evolved “mental adaptations” in these results.
  • World Religions and Moralizing Gods
  • What is the connection between participation in world religion and prosocial play? 499: When groups get large enough to interact with strangers, they invent moralizing gods (research from Chapter 9). The large global religions all have moralizing gods who engage in third party punishment. So we do. Still. Think about that. (We’ll read a couple of pages from “The WEIRDEST People in the World on this later.)
  • Explaining Public Goods Game Results499: Two hypotheses:
  • 1. Our sense of fairness is an extension of a deep past in which sociality was based on kin and near kin. (don't forget monkey fairness) or,
  • 2. Fairness is a cultural artifact (product of culture) that comes from reasoning about the implications of larger groups size. Looks more plausible now to say both.
  • Note theoretical puzzle on p. 500: You might expect small kin-based communities to have higher offers in PG games, punishing unfairnes, but "impersonal prosociality" and "impersonal fairness" are really part of a different "cooperative toolkit". In a way, the “market toolkit” is much simpler than a small group situation. “You give me this now, and I pay you now.”
  • Honor and Revenge - (mention Mediterranean hypothesis - Italian honor culture & research on southerners....) 501
  • Shamed Collectivists v. Guilty Individualists 501
  • more likely to sacrifice welfare of one for group. Use individual as means to end. focus of moral imperatives on social roles and duties vs. rights.
  • uses shames vs. guilt. read 502. shame cultures viewed as primitive, but contemporary advocates of shaming. thoughts?....examples p. 503.
  • gossip as tool of shaming -- as much as 2/3 of conversation and mostly negative.
  • Fools Rush In -- Reason and Intuition p. 504
  • How do we use insights from research to improve behavior?
  • Which moral theory is best? (trick question). In this section, he's
  • Virtue theory looks outdated, but maybe more relevant than we think.
  • reviews the point from trolley research about the utilitarian answer from the dlPFC and the nonutilitariain from the vmPFC. Why would we be automatically non-utilitarian? One answer: nature isn't trying to make us happy, it's try to get our genes into the next generation.
  • Moral heterogeneity - new data: 30% deontologist and 30% utilitarian in both conditions. 40% swing vote, context sensitive. theorize about that.
  • Major criticism of utilitarian - most rational, but not practical unless you don't have a vmPFC. "I kinda like my liver". Triggers concerns that you might be sacrificed for the greater happiness.
  • Sapolsky claims that optimal decisions involve integration of reason and intuition. 508:"Our moral intuitions are neither primordial nor reflexively primitive....[but] cognitive conclusions from experience. morality is a dual process, partitioned between structures for reasoning and intuition. (Note that both processes are cognitive. Intuition sometimes called "automatic inference" in both how they emerge and are applied. Saying "thank you".)
  • Slow vs. Fast
  • More Josh Greene research. Old problem: tragedy of the commons -- how do you jumpstart cooperation. It's a "me vs us" problem. But there's an "us versus them" version when there are two groups (cultures) with competing models for thriving.
  • Tragedy of Commonsense Morality (a group version of what I call The Paradox of Moral Experience). It's really hard not to conclude that your way of doing something isn't just culturally contingent, but really true.
  • Example of Tragedy of commonsense morality using Dog meat. -- used as example of how you could induce us vs. them response.
  • Example of framing: Samuel Bowles example of switching people's mind set in the case of the school responding to late parents.
  • Veracity and Mendacity
  • Note range of questions 512. Truth telling not a simple policy matter.
  • Primate duplicity -- capuchin monkeys will distract a higher ranking member to take food, but not a lower one.
  • Male gelada baboons know when to hold off on the "copulation call"
  • Differences with humans: we feel bad or morally soiled about lying and we can believe our own lies.
  • Human resources for lying -- poker face, finesse, dlPFC comes in with both struggle to resist lying and execution of strategic lie.
  • Neuroplasticity in white and gray matter in habitual liars. 516. Compulsive liars have more white matter in their brains.
  • 517: Swiss research (Baumgartner et al) -- playing a trust game allowing for deception, a pattern of brain activation predicted promise breaking. Think of a time when you broke a promise..... Did it feel like what S is describing? A noisy brain cut off by a decision. (Good example of cognitive dissonance.)
  • Subjects who don't cheat. will vs. grace. grace wins. "I don't know; I just don't cheat."

15: OCT 17: Unit 2: Living in the Matrix / Working with Political Difference 1


  • Haidt, Chapter 8, “The Conservative Advantage”


  • A continuum of views of justice...
  • The Paradox of Moral Experience.
  • Assign SW2: Understanding Political Difference

Paradox of Moral Experience

  • The Paradox of Moral Experience involves a conflict between two "standpoints" for seeing values. 1 and 2 below:
  • 1. We experience our morality as beliefs we hold true. They are compelling to us in a way that leads us to expect others to find them compelling. We can be surprised or frustrated that others do not see our reasons as compelling. From this standpoint, our moral truths feel necessary rather than contingent.
  • Examples: "What's wrong with those (lib/con)s, don't they see X/Y?" "How can anyone think it's ok to act like that?")
  • 2. But, when we study morality as a functional system that integrates people who see and interpret the world differently, it is less surprising that we often do not find each others' reasoning or choices compelling. We can also see how groups of people might develop "values cultures" that diverge on entire sets of values (or, "cooperative toolkits") while still solving some of the same underlying problems that all human societies face. From this standpoint, the functions of morality are universal, but the specific strategies that individuals and cultures take seem very contingent. But, knowing this, why don’t we experience our own values as contingent?
  • Examples:
  • Sociocentric / Individualist cultures, Specific histories that groups experience (Us vs. Europe vs. Oppressed peoples - Slavery, Sicily...)
  • Honor Cultures v Shame Cultures
  • Variations in Impersonal Honesty, Trust of strangers, focus on intentions, analytic thinking (Henrich C1).
  • Roughly, 1 is normal experience, when you are "in your head". 2 reflects an attempt, through knowledge, to get a "third person" experience, to "get out of your head".
  • Likely evolutionary basis: Belief commitment (believing that our beliefs are true) is advantageous, but we also need to be open to belief revision through social encounters.
  • Some implications:
  • We have a bias against seeing others' moral beliefs as functional. Rather, we see them as caused by their culture, and often wrongheaded. For example, we might say that "Italians are more sociocentric because their culture makes them that way." Rather than what the third person knowledge tells us: that sociocentric cultures function to solve basic problems, just like individualistic ones.
  • On the other hand, if there are many cultural strategies ("cooperative toolkits", moral matrices, state of political discourse) that are "functional" (they work to broadly prompt life affirming outcomes in the society), then there might also be "disfunctional strategies. Rapa Nui. If morality is an evolved set of behaviors, including the capacity to be changed by our cultures, perhaps we can focus on ways of assessing it apart from ideology? Not sure....

Haidt, Chapter 8: The Conservative Advantage

  • Hadit's critique of Dems: Dems offer sugar (Care) and salt (Fairness), conservatives appeal to all five receptors. Imagine the value of "rewriting" our own or opposing ideologies as Haidt imagined doing. Dems should appeal to loyalty and authority more. Neglect may be ommission and underrepresent Dems (recall discussion of labels and issues. We could add "values".)
  • Republicans seemed to Haidt to understand moral psych better, not because they were fear mongering, but triggering all of the moral moral foundations. Equalizer metaphor.
  • Measuring Morals
  • The MFQ: consistency across cultures; large n;
  • 162: Correlations of pol orientation with preferences for dog breeds, training, sermon styles. You can catch liberal and conservative "surprise" in the EEG and fMRI.(similar to early Hibbing reading).
  • What Makes People Vote Republican?
  • biographical note about tracking Obama on left/right triggers. Message on parental resp, but then shift to social justice, global citizenship, omitted flag lapel pin.
  • 164: Haidt's argument for replacing "old story" of political difference: there's something wrong with conservatives! Note reactions to his essay: some libs/conserv found it hard to establish a positive view of their "opponents". Haidt has implicit critique of Libs by saying that organic society can't just be about 2 foundations. Experience with his essay. follow.
  • Mill vs. Durkheim - responses to the challenge of living with strangers in modern society. Individualism vs. Organic society. Haidt’s essay triggers lots of political venom. From that response, however, Haidt noticed that he was missing a foundation: Fairness as proportionality. You reap what you sow. The fairness foundation mixed fairness as equality and fairness as proportionality.
  • 6th Moral foundation: liberty and oppression: taking the "fairness as equality" from Fairness and considers it in terms of Liberty/Oppression. [Some discussion here. Note relation to Authority/Leadership in Hibbing. Equality here means social equality and social hierarchy. When do we expect equal treatment? When do we tolerate hierarchy? When to we rebel. Similarity to Authority/subversion, but more than legitimacy of one authority figure, rather social hierarchy.
  • The Liberty / Oppression Foundation
  • ”The desire for equality more closely related to psychology of liberty / oppression that reciprocal altruism.
  • Evolutionary story about hierarchy.
  • Original triggers: bullies and tyrants, current triggers: illegit. restraint on liberty.
  • Evolutionary/Archeological story: egalitarianism in hunter gatherers, hierarchy comes with agriculture.
  • Emergence of pre-ag dominance strategies -- 500,000ya weapons for human conflict (and language to complain about bullies and tyrants) takes off. This changes the strategic problem. Parallel in Chimps: revolutions: "reverse dominance hierarchies" are possible.
  • Cultural Evo Theory on cultural strategies toward equality: Societies make transition to some form of political egalitarianism (equality of citizenship or civic equality). We've had time to select for people who can tolerate political equality and surrender violence to the state. (Got to mention dueling here.) Culture domestics us. "Self-domestication".
  • ”The liberty/oppression foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if gen the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others.
  • Liberal vs. Conservative triggers on Liberty/Oppression:
  • Liberals experience this in terms of universalistic goals like social justice, abuse of the power of the most fortunate. Oppressed individuals.
  • Conservatives triggered more by group level concerns. The nanny state is oppression, taxation is oppressive, globalism is a threat to sovereignty.
  • 'Fairness as Proportionality
  • After mortgage crisis recession of 2008 some like Santelli thought it unfair to bail out banks and borrowers. This is really a conservative version of fairness as proportionality, which shares some features of the "reciprocal altruism", such as necessity of punishment.
  • Public Goods games (again). Setup. 1.6 multiplier. Still, best strategy is not to contribute. altruistic punishment can be stimulated (84% do) even without immediate reward. cooperation increases. 84% paid to punish because we are triggered by slackers and free riders.
  • In the research on Liberty / Oppression, Haidt and others find that concerns about political equality track Lib/Oppression, so fairness is about proportionality.
  • Summary: Liberals have emphasize C, F, Lib while conservatives balance all six. Libs construe Fairness in more egalitarian ways and have diff emphasis for Liberty/Oppression. Many liberals and conservatives have a hard time forming a positive image of each other, but when you think about this, it sounds like something to work on. In light of this research and theorizing, one could see that as a character flaw or unsupported bias.

SW2: Understanding Political Difference (800 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 800 word maximum answer to the following question by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: We have been discussing political orientation and political difference from the standpoints of political science and evolutionary moral psychology (Hibbing & Haidt). Present their theories about the nature of political orientation and evolved moral foundations. Offer a brief assessment. Do you find them persuasive? Offer reasons either way. (50-100 words) Then, in the last 150-200 words of your answer, identify practical ways to respect political orientation in others and to avoid polarized and non-cooperative outcomes.
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: PoliticalDifference.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "1 Points - SW2" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow and Content areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, open the file called "#Key.xls" in the shared folder. You will see a worksheet with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. Find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work below your animal name. If you get to the bottom of the list before reaching 4 animals, go to the top of the list and continue.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. Submit the form once for each review.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go back to the key and review the next animal's paper, continuing until you get four reviews. Do not review more than four papers.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, most of my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores, plus or minus.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [20]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You must do the back evaluation to receive credit for the whole assignment. Failing to give back-evaluations unfairly affects other classmates.
  • Back evaluations are due TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.

Tools for working with Political Orientation and Different Moral Matrices

  • A big problem that Haidt's "Moral Foundations Theory" (MFT) leaves us with is, "How do we interact with people with different matrices and different experiences, especially concerning political value differences, when we hold our own views with conviction and sense of their truth? In other words, how do we deal with the Paradox of Moral Experience?
  • Why this is soo difficult...
  • We often unintentionally (and, for some people, intentionally) create "cognitive dissonance" in a discussion, leading people to find ways to stop the pain, rather than listen to the issues. This can escalate.
  • We don't always have reasons for our convictions, but, as we know from the dumbfounding research, we "confabulate". We confuse intuitions with reasoned conviction. This can lead us to "pile on" arguments, thinking they are persuasive apart from the intuitions (moral matrix) that support them. But if you don't have those intuitions, the "pile on" can feel aggressive.
  • We don't all react the same way when our views are criticized. (Remember Socrates' attitude here. Noble but difficult to achieve.)
  • 1. Three Basic Strategies:
  • A. Explore differences gently. Monitor your vital signs and those of your interlocutors.
  • B. Find common goals or things to affirm. (Example of landlord interaction last semester.)
  • C. Model exploratory thought. (How do you do that, specifically?) See sympathetic interpretation below.
  • These strategies obviously move you in different directions in a conversation, but they can all be used together to manage "dissonance" and tension in a discussion.
  • 2. Practice Sympathetic Interpretation
  • In general, sympathetic interpretation involves strategies that mix "identification" (peanuts for the elephant) with "critical engagement" (rational persuasion, expression of value differences)
  • Try to understand where a view is "coming from". Ask questions.
  • Restate views, checking for fairness.
  • Practice "strategic dissimulation" (controversial for some). "I'm still working out my views here..." when you really have pretty well worked out views, even one's you are proud of and think to be true (Paradox of Moral Experience)
  • Practice "strategic self-deprecation" - Acknowledge knowledge deficits as a way of validating that the other person has a knowledge-base for their view, even if it's not likely to be persuasive to you.
  • Use verbal cues that indicate (if possible) that views you disagree with are "reasonable" and/or "understandable". That could mean:
  • 1. The view is reasonable, even if you disagree. Preface your disagreement by acknowledging this.
  • Example: "Reasonable and well-informed people disagree on this..."... "Well, your in good company..."
  • 2. The view seems unreasonable, but you focus on some intuitions that support it, even if you don't share these intuitions.
  • Example: I can see how/why someone would feel this way..., but...
  • 3. The view seems unreasonable and false to you, but it is one that many people hold.
  • Example: Acknowledging that the view is widely held without endorsing it. You can also "deflect" to the complexity of the problem or human nature...
  • 3. Other miscellaneous strategies (many contributed by students):
  • Acknowledge that an opposing view may be insightful for others, even if not for you.
  • Cultivate diverse relationships if possible.
  • Avoid pejorative labels.
  • Views can change even if orientations don't. Focus on views, not orientations.
  • Accept differences that won't change (validate them in others, as you would other differences), focus on pragmatics and cooperation.
  • Humor, if possible. Self-effacing humor can set the stage.
  • Acknowledge physio-politics in the discussion. Give people "permission" or space to "out" themselves as libs and cons.
  • Acknowledge your own orientation and expect it to be respected.
  • Don't "sugar coat" differences. (Be true to yourself.)

16: OCT 19. Living in the Matrix / Working with Political Difference 2


  • Haidt, Chapter 12, "Can't We all Disagree More Constructively?" (276-312) (36)


  • Philosophical point about impersonal honesty (passenger dilemma) and Kantian views of honesty.
  • Looking ahead to Unit 3 - Thursday
  • Pew Research on demographics of climate change politics. [21] and for gen Z and different way of asking [22]

Haidt, Ch 12, "Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?"

  • Evidence of polarization in American politics; changes in political culture. compromise less valued.
  • Looking for a theory of ideologies, which might be thought to drive political identity formation.
  • Two senses:
  • 1. Fixing orientation (all of the "big" theories we've studied have focused on evidence of persistent traits, especially in adults.
  • 2. Fixing the specific fusion of issue-position and label acceptance.
  • "right" and "left", simplifications, but basis of study and comparative to Europe in some ways, historical origins in French Assembly of 1789, basis in heritable traits - twins studies. L/R don't map wealth exclusively.
  • Old answers: people choose ideologies based on interests. blank-state theories.
  • One more time through the modern genetic/epigenetic/phenotype explanation pattern (note what's at stake: if you misunderstand the determinism here, you'll misunderstand the whole theory):
  • 1: Genes make brains - Australian study: diff responses to new experiences: threat and fear for conservative, dopamine for liberal. (recall first draft metaphor)
  • 2: Dispositional traits lead to different experiences, which lead to "characteristic adaptations" (story about how we differentiate ourselves through our first person experience. mention feedback loops). (Lots of parents would corroborate this.) Does the story of the twins seem plausible?
  • 3: Life narratives; McAdams study using Moral Foundations Theory to analyze narratives, found MFs in stories people tell about religious experience. Thesis: different paths to religious faith. We "map" our moral foundations onto our faith commitment to some extent.
  • So, an ideology can be thought of as the political version of a narrative that fits with a personal narrative you tell about your experience. Note the complexity here. You can tailor your narrative to you.
  • Political narratives of Republicans and Democrats.
  • Haidt, Graham, and Nosek study: Liberals worse at predicting conservatives responses. Interesting point: the distortion of seeing things as a liberal makes liberals more likely to believe that conservatives really don't care about harm. But conservatives may be better at understanding (predicting) liberal responses because they use all of the foundations. (File this with Hibbing Chs. 5 and 6)
  • Muller on difference bt conservative and orthodox. Post-enlightenment conservatives: want to critique liberalism from Enlightenment premise of promoting human well being. follow conservative description of human nature. 290. - humans imperfect, need accountability, reasoning has flaws so we might do well to give weight to past experience, institutions are social facts that need to be respected, even sacralized. (Consider countries in which judges are abducted or blown up.)
  • Moral and Social Capital -- moral capital: resources that sustain a moral community (including those that promote accountability and authority.). moral capital not always straightforward good (293), also, less trusting places, like cities, can be more interesting. Social capital more about the ties we have through our social networks which maintain trust and cooperation relationships.
  • Liberals
  • Blindspot: not valuing moral capital, social capital, tends to over reach, change too many things too quickly. Bertrand Russell: tension between ossification and dissolution..
  • Strength: 1) regulating super-organisms (mention theory of "regulatory capture"); 2)solving soluble problems (getting the lead out - might have had big effect on well-being. note this was a bipartisan push back against a Reagan reversal of Carter's policy).
  • Libertarians. Today's political libertarian started out as a "classic liberal" prioritizing limited gov and limited church influence of government.
  • Note research suggesting how libertarians diverge from liberals and conservatives on the MFs.
  • Libertarian wisdom: 1) markets are powerful -- track details -- often self-organizing, self-policing, entrepreneurial)
  • Social Conservatives
  • wisdom: understanding threats to social capital (can't help bees if you destroy the hive)
  • Putnam's research on diversity and social capital : bridging and bonding capital both decline with diversity. sometimes well intentioned efforts to promote ethnic identity and respect can exacerbate this.

Summarizing Theories of Political Difference

  • Synthesizing Research on Political and Moral Difference.jpg
  • Issues
  • Issues have lifespans that can range from months to years. Some issues get settled (e.g. gay marriage) while other remain contested (abortion). Since issues can get people to vote, political parties sometimes keep issues alive even when polling tells us that most people have moved on (again abortion, gun rights). Some issues are “live” but untouched by the major political parties (health care, penal reform), sometimes because advocacy would promote more opposing votes than supporting votes.
  • Labels
  • Labels can apply to parties and people. Democrats were “centrists” when Clinton was president, but now there are more progressive voices. Parties manage labels to avoid losing adherents, but parties can also be “taken over.” Some would says Republicans have been taken over by right wind authoritarianism. Dems are less centrist now. Polarization rules.
  • Political Parties
  • In a two party system, political parties have to reach 51% to win. They do this by trying to map labels onto people. If you are cynical, you might say they “manage” opinion by tracking trends and testing out issues to see “what sells”.
  • People
  • People are obviously at the heart of moral life. We have our own “moral matrix” and beliefs about “basic social dilemmas” (how society works best). We have to figure out who to ally with, who to tolerate, and who to avoid. Sometimes we actively oppose others’ views by protesting or contributing to causes.
  • Culture
  • Culture is a vector for transmitting moral views, so it shapes us, but we also shape it by the way we live our lives. This happens intentionally, but also passively through imitation.
  • Orientations - Evolved Psychology
  • This is the level at which Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) and responses to basic social dilemmas describe our relatively stable “values orientation”.
  • Nature - Evolutionary Challenges - Ancestral to Contemporary
  • Evolutionary challenges are well known: how to behave, whom to trust, how to raise kids, when to go along with things, and when to resist others’ values and actions. Any existential problem that can be addressed by values is an evolutionary challenge, from avoiding disease to responding to aggression to facing climate change.

Note on "Social Epistemology"

  • Philosophical Method point: The following line of thought is also example of philosophical speculation. We are venturing a bit beyond the research itself to extract significance and insight.
  • "Social Epistemology" means a variety of things in philosophy. Here, the idea is that some traits relevant to group problem solving are distributed in a population (call this a "demographic epistemic trait" AND that this variation might play a role in optimizing group decision-making. In other words, we are not all seeing the same social reality due to our different orientations and experiences. These differences might be persistent, not something we can talk each other out of. But making constructive use of differences might product better decisions.
  • Think about evidence from Haidt and Hibbing about divergences in cognitive style, problem solving (BeanFest!), perception, and moral matrices. Evidence from Haidt on MFs.
  • Speculative questions about such traits (I am not aware of a theory about this yet): Are there are DETs? Would human populations with some optimal variation in DETs do better than ones with more or less than an optimal range? There is a research literature on diversity of perspective in workgroups. It is often a benefit.
  • Related literature: Wisdom of Crowds [23] and research on group decision making under conditions of cognitive diversity.

17: OCT 24: Unit Three: Roe, Dobbs, and the Search for Basic Liberties


  • Kahn Academy, "The Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection" [24]
  • Scotus Brief, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization [25]
  • Alfino, "Interpretation, Political Orientation, and Basic Liberties in the Dobbs Decision" (1-13)
  • Supreme Court of the US, "Excerpts from the Dobbs Decision," (1-13)

Kahn Academy, "The 14th Amendment and equal protection"

  • Section 1: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
  • prohibitions by Federal gov't to potential state actions. Restates 5th ammentdment as applying to states, not just feds.
  • "equal protection clause"
  • Historical context
  • 1868 - after civil war, 13th abolished slavery, 14th responding to "black codes" - statutes that repressed rights of recently emancipated African Americans.
  • Supreme Court opinion in Plessy v Ferguson: 1896 - separate train car travel. equal but separate is OK! doesn't violate the 14th amendment. (The textbook example of how stare decisis can't be absolute. Widely viewed as a shameful decision.) Reversed by Brown v Board of Education. Separate is not equal. 1954. Took decades to make progress enacting this decision.
  • 14th Amendment key to civil rights arguments. Sexual equality in the workplace. Also pro-life arguments (liberty of the unborn). Quotas in higher education (recent cases pending Summer '23).

SCOTUS Brief, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization

  • June 2022. Mississippi Gestational Age Act. 15 week abortion limit. Conflict with Roe and Casey.
  • Majority decision:
  • 5 of the 6 (not Roberts) voted to overturn Roe and Casey. Roberts wanted a more moderate approach - allow 15 week bans.
  • Stare Decisis - 5 reasons for overruling. Revisits Roe - invoked complicated argument from several amendments. Casey affirms Roe, but focuses only on 14th am. Abortion rights not found in text or tradition (originalism).
  • Claims not to impact anything but abortion, which involves potential life. Left standing other decisions that seem to depend on Roe. Contraception, same sex relationships. Thomas went further, court should reconsider "due process" cases. Rec alternative approach.
  • Roberts concurrence: Urged more restraint. Throw out the "viability standard" (digression) Accept the Mississippi limit
  • Minority decision:
  • Major claims
  • 1. Majority decision takes rights away from women if they are pregnant.
  • 2. Roe and Casey support a long line of settled cases on privacy, private choices about family matters, sexuality, and procreation. (In a way, Thomas might agree, but want to reconsider those.) 50 years of reliance.

Supreme Court, Excerpts from Dobbs (1-13)

  • Majority Decision
  • Background and context of Roe as departure from history of country. Liberalization was occurring but Roe cut it off. Presents Casey as disputed opinion, not really an endorsement of Roe. Casey was a partial overruling of Roe.
  • p. 5: Major statement of ruling. ....not in history or tradition... (new, originalist, standard for "unenumerated" rights)
  • Long evidentiary argument to support the major premise about history and tradition. Draws conclusion p. 7/25.
  • Discusses Plessy as example of overturning stare decisis.
  • Robert's concurrence: p. 11/7: Throw out the viability standard

Alfino, "Interpretation..." main points (1-13)

  • Basic Intuitions about liberty and abortion:
  • Not unreasonable to say life begins with conception
  • Also, unreasonable to deny that liberty and autonomy are constrained without a right elective of abortion.
  • Abortion rights is a problem of understanding what basic liberties are. Start there.
  • The Dobbs decision:
  • The majority determined indirectly that elective abortion isn't a constitutional right by applying an originalist approach to determining unenumerated rights. That approach is in contrast to the "living document" approach of the minority (and the jurisprudence of privacy of the past 4-6 decades. They left open the possibility that the right could be legislated as a statutory right or prohibited.
  • Originalism - Unenumerated rights must be part of the history and tradition of the country. Without this constraint judicial opinions are too subjective. Interpreting a contract requires finding language in the contract that speaks to the immediate issue.
  • Living document - The meanings of words like "liberty" and "autonomy" change over time. The Framers and Ratifiers intended us to update the meanings of basic terms in light of experience. (Justice Kagan: "We're all originalists." see p. 9 Alfino). Many of our decisions do require applying new meanings or cases not envisioned by the Framers.
  • Political Orientation Issue -- In light of our study of the nature of morality, we can't miss the fact that these different approaches to interpretation reflect fundamentally conservative and liberal political orientations. How should we take that into account if finding a solution to conflicts over basic liberties?

Small Group Discussion

  • On our initial dive into the Dobbs decision, we now see that the Court engaged the broad question: "How do we interpret "unenumerated rights". In that sense the decision was about more than abortion. More like, "How do we update the social contract (as embodied in the constitution) when new liberties arise?" One group advocates and "originalist" approach while the other advocate a "living document" approach. In a small group discussion, consider what you find appealing or negative about these approaches. Keep a list. You may also want to consult the list of sample laws for next class discussion.

18: OCT 26


  • Tribe, Lawrence. "Deconstructing Dobbs" (1st half, 1-9)
  • Supreme Court of the US, "Excerpts from the Dobbs Decision," (13-29)


  • Some basic data on abortions from Pew [26].
  • Comparting gestational limits by country.[27]. Note: This is from a right to life group, but I have seen similar data elsewhere.

Lawrence Tribe, “Deconstructing Dobbs”, NYRB, Sept 22, 2022

  • Concerns: 10 year old rape victim in Ohio; criminal penalties for doctors, no IVF, Texas style enforcement, criminalizing abortion seeking? Point: Dobbs is creating lots of uncertainty in the law.
  • The jurisprudence:
  • Roe and Casey had created settled law, contra majority.
  • Majority makes Roe and Casey look like isolated precedents, abberations, but not so.
  • Criticism of the court's treatment of the 9th amendment:
  • 9th: enumeration of rights isn’t exhaustive. problem of "unenumerated rights". Constitution says they exist, but can't list them. Invites "living document" approach. see p. 3.
  • But the Majority just say that they don't find abortion among the unenumerated rights referred to by 9th am. Tribe thinks that's an odd claim to make since the 9th just says any (unspecified) rights not enumerated are still reserved to the People.
  • Majority decision doesn't say why compelling pregnancy isn't a violation of liberty.
  • The court has found unenumerated aspects of other rights, extending 1st am for example.
  • Agrees with dissent that travel rights could be impacted, not withstanding Kavanaugh's claim. p. 5
  • Reviews the approach to liberty of contract in Lochner Era: SC used to strike down min wage laws on grounds of "liberty of contract".
  • Agrees with the dissent that merely saying abortion is different from other rights supported by Roe and Casey (like contraception and same sex marriage) isn't sufficient because they are clearly analogous. p. 6
  • Key argument against the decision at p. 7: Dobbs doesn't recognize fetus as a legal person yet allows it's interests to supersede the interests of the legal person who gestates it. Tribe quotes from his one arguments in Roe v Wade that the development of the fetus is continuous and does not offer a clear distinction between potential and actual life.

Supreme Court, Excerpts from Dobbs (13-29)

  • From the dissent: Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
  • Opening claim at 13, Roe/Casey engaged in a balance of interests recognizing difference in moral viewpoint.
  • In practice, allowing states to impose some restrictions before viability (but not a "substantial obstacle"), prohibition after viability, protecting maternal health after viability.
  • Claims that Dobbs: allows state to compel gestation even in cases that endanger maternal health, or cases of rape and incest, severe fetal abnormalities (ex. Tay-Sachs disease). Also, potential for states to prohibit travel, possibility of Federal ban (which means states don't have the right).
  • The decision "curtails the rights of women and status as free and equal citizens." Potentially includes other rights: contraception, marriage...
  • Basic liberties: 17 “protecting autonomous decision making over the most personal of life decisions.”
  • Historical record: 19th century criminalization of abortion was short term change, common law not so harsh on “pre-quickening” abortion. (21).
  • The ratifiers of the 14th am were all men. They did not consider women to be equal members of the society. Since we do, this undermines aspects of their thinking.
  • On interpretation: "living document" argument (24); reviews history of using the 14th to strike down miscegenation laws, allow gay marriage. response to conservative concerns 25. Evolution of meaning of "liberty" still tied to constitutional principles. (It won't be "anything goes".)
  • Dobbs majority lowers the test of an abortion law's constitutional legitimacy to "rational basis" (lowest standard -- basic liberties use "strict scrutiny"). rational basis standard may ignore maternal health, allow travel restrictions, prevent medical abortion. 28

Finding the language of basic liberties

  • For John Stuart Mill, the language of basic liberties starts with freedom of conscience, thought, and discussion. But that's not enough. You also have to be able to live your life according to your own way of thinking, without interference from church, state, or any other coercive power.
  • In practice, specific areas of our lives seem to be the focus of liberty, so the "language of basic liberty" might include the way we talk about these area. The integrity and privacy of our bodies, the ability to make decisions about what happens to and in my body. By extension, the privacy of my intimate relationships. But the ability to live my identity publicly requires some toleration of my choices and my identity. Of course, others have freedom of conscience as well. So they may think what they want about me, but enjoyment of basic liberty involves a commitment not to treat others unequally because of our differences.
  • Body, Bodily Autonomy, and Physical Intimacy:
  • In a free society, you should expect to have a great deal of control and decision-making about your body, your health, and intimacy. Some of these liberties are covered by your due process rights, which place rules on the condition under which you can be incarcerated, especially prior to a trial. But many other bodily autonomy rights are not specifically enumerated as basic liberties. How do you respond to the following hypothetical constraints on liberty? Some you may find easier to locate your response than others. Note that. Try to describe your reaction, including reasoning.
  • Examples: Which of these laws would violate a "basic liberty" (something that should not be decided by majority rule?) Which of these are easy and which more complicated? Can you think of more examples?
  • A law allowing discrimination against women for hiring to jobs deemed too hard for women.
  • Pumping a person’s stomach for drugs as part of a criminal investigation.
  • Forced sterilization, forced reproduction.
  • A law prohibiting vasectomies or requiring men to reverse them.
  • A law allowing anyone doubting a student athlete’s eligibility for a team sport to demand “genital inspection” (actual proposed law, tabled).
  • A law prohibiting you from receiving gender affirming care from a physician.
  • A law prohibiting tattoos.
  • A law forcing a person to get an abortion.
  • A law requiring end of life medical care against a person’s wishes. (Note diffs among states.)
  • A law requiring blood donations.
  • A law prohibiting same sex marriage and intimacy or contraception.
  • A law requiring you to notify the government when you travel or restricting travel.
  • A law requiring you to register with the government to access social media or when you rent a hotel room.
  • A law requiring cis-gender conforming dress and behavior in public.
  • A law allowing police or others gov't representative to do a "wellness check" on you.
  • A law allowing the gov't to remove weapons from your possession on reports of erratic or disturbing reports about you, including disturbing social media posts.
  • A law requiring employer's to pay a minimum wage, regulate contracts, etc.
Some “maybe nots”. Maybe these would not violate basic liberties. With these items (assuming you agree), try to develop language for saying why liberty is not violated by the law. If you disagree, try to express your reasons.
  • Maybe not: A law legalizing very addictive and deadly drugs.
  • Maybe not: Limiting access to dangerous biological agents or radioactive materials.
  • Maybe not: Laws regulating explosives and bomb making materials, including surface to air missiles.
  • Maybe not: A law decriminalizing sex with minors.
  • Maybe not: A law allowing someone to choose to become an indentured servant or slave.
  • Maybe not: A law allowing first responders to restraint or detain or medicate a person in a mental health crisis from harming themselves.
  • Maybe not: A law prohibiting private companies from imposing appropriate workplace attire rules, and confidentiality agreements.
  • Maybe not: A law prohibiting public nudity.

19: OCT 31


  • Tribe, Lawrence. "Deconstructing Dobbs" (2nd half, 9-17)
  • Alfino, "Interpretation, Political Orientation, and the Basic Liberties in the Dobbs Decision" (12-end)


  • Assign SW3: What are Basic Liberties? Small group discussion on Personal information and family liberties.

Tribe, "Deconstructing Dobbs" 2nd half (p. 8-12)

  • Tribe thinks only a religious view of the embryo supports this view. Note citation of Rawls Theory of Justice and article 4 of Constitution. "Republican form of government" seems antithetical to a theocracy. Other evidence that the court is reflecting a preference for Christian thought in reading the 1st amendement:
  • Tribe sees elements of a "tyranny of the minority" in Dobbs, but also in Kennedy v Bremmerton (religious fball coach). He also thinks that the fact that 3 of the justices were appointed by a president who lost the majority vote is relevant.
  • Tribe also feels the court Majority is being inconsistent in its interpretive theory in the case of Bruen, which treats the right to concealed carry of guns as grounded in the 2nd amendment, even though the types of guns did not exist in our "history and traditions".
  • In the remaining 2-3 pages Tribe extends his argument against the conservative court by objecting to other putatively radical decisions it has made.

More "language of basic liberties"

  • In addition to your liberty to control your body, bodily autonomy, and intimacy, we recognize (by statute and judicial opinion) basic liberties to control some personal information and to direct the upbringing of your children (parental rights) and other protections for family life. At a practical level, parental rights often involve schooling, which is local in our society. Still, cases reach the Supreme Court.
  • Personal Information Examples
  • A law requiring you to share your browsing history with the government.
  • A law requiring you to share your medical records with the government.
  • A law requiring you to send a full frontal nude picture of yourself to the government every 5 years.
  • A law allowing anyone to discover your bank account balances.
  • A law requiring you to explain your reasons for divorce to a judge (before “no fault”divorce).
  • A law conferring a “right to be forgotten” (to have internet information about you deleted). This is a right guaranteed in the European Union.
  • Family and Parental Rights Examples
  • A law prohibiting parents from exempting their kids from some sex education programs.
  • But maybe not: A law allowing parents to exempt their kids from hearing basic public health information, including information about sexually transmitted diseases.
  • A law requiring family members to testify against each other.
  • But maybe not: A law preventing the government from checking on child welfare and acting on serious problems, including removing children from their parents’ care.
  • A zoning ordinance prohibiting grandparents from living with their families (actual controversy).
  • A law prohibiting home schooling.
  • A law prohibiting parents and their children from receiving gender affirming care.
  • But maybe not: A law allowing parents to keep their kids from formal schooling of any kind.

Small group: Organizing your thoughts on Basic Liberties and Abortion Rights

  • Consider the following questions as you prepare to write about Basic Liberties and Abortion rights
  • Is there a constitutional basic liberty (or liberties) at stake? Use your "language of basic liberties" to express this.
  • If there is a right to elective abortion, how should we think about it?
  • 1. As a balance between the liberty interests of the fetus/baby and the host/mother?
  • possible balancing points: Conception (pro life), "Clear opportunity" (gestational limits/ Roberts), Viability (Roe/Casey)
  • 2. As a majoritarian issue -- any law expressing a "rational basis" may be constitional
  • 3. A new constitutional amendment?

SW3: What are Basic Liberties (800 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 800 word maximum answer to the following question by Monday, April 10, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: Drawing on resources from this unit and your own research and reflection, devote the first part of your essay to these questions: What is your theory of basic liberties? What makes something a basic liberty and why are they important? (Use about 200-250 words for this.) Then, in rest of your essay, apply your view about basic liberties to the abortion question, taking into account our work in this unit. You should focus your analysis initially on the Dobbs decision, showing how you would have decided it based on your view of whether abortion is a constitutionally protected basic liberty.
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: BasicLiberties.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "1 SW3 - Points" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow and Content areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by Saturday, April 15, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, open the file called "#Key.xls" in the shared folder. You will see a worksheet with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. Find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work below your animal name. If you get to the bottom of the list before reaching 4 animals, go to the top of the list and continue.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. Submit the form once for each review.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go back to the key and review the next animal's paper, continuing until you get four reviews. Do not review more than four papers.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, most of my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores, plus or minus.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [28]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You must do the back evaluation to receive credit for the whole assignment. Failing to give back-evaluations unfairly affects other classmates.
  • Back evaluations are due Thursday, April 27th, 2022, 11:59pm.

20: NOV 2: Unit Four: Justice and Justified Partiality


Introduction to Justified Partiality Unit

  • A typical question for thinking about social justice is, "What do I owe strangers?". We've mentioned the social contract, or even the constitution, as a place where this set of values (expectations) is realized, but there are some other avenues to justice that we explore in this unit.
  • Some concepts:
  • You owe strangers a duty of justice - something they can make a claim upon you for - (Examples) or
  • You can also owe someone an informal or civil duty of interpersonal fairness/justice - you can't take me to court for not showing this sort of fairness or just treatment, but if you are on board with impersonal honesty, impersonal trust, and pro-sociality, you probably accept this duty at some level. (Examples)
  • You can think of our approach in this unit as an indirect way of addressing the question of these two sorts of justice duties by starting with a different question:
  • "What are the limits (if any) of partiality to family, intimates, friends?" (Your preference network)
  • Personal Partiality - the legitimate preferences and treatment we show to friends, family, and intimates.
  • Today's class is focused on "personal partiality," the kind that shows up in our interpersonal social relationships. The next class will focus on "impersonal altruism", which shows up in our commitments, if any, to benefit strangers, especially strangers in our society, but in some cases, globally.
  • Three big questions:
  • 1. What are some the social functions of personal preferential treatment? (Draw in material from podcast)
  • 2. Could our networks of preferential treatment be the effect of and also promote injustice?
  • 3. What principles or considerations might lead to you recognize a duty of interpersonal justice? (that is, should you direct some resources (time, money, in-kind aid) outside your preference network? (We need additional resources for Question #3)

Hidden Brain, "Playing Favorites"

  • Intro
  • Expectations for unique attention from one's beloved. We'd rather an inferior unique message than a message shared with others. We want partiality. (Think about cases in which someone shows you a simple preference -- offering to pay for coffee, give you a ride somewhere, just showing you attention. It's wonderful!)
  • How does partiality fit with a desire for justice as equal treatment? Can partiality cause injustice?
  • Segment 1: Carla's Story
  • Discrimination research: IAT - Implicit Association Test - Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard) one of the researchers on IAT.
  • Mahzarin Banaji and Professor Carla Kaplan (Yale English at time of story). Also a quilter. Friends in the 80s, among the few women at Yale. Story of injury to Carla. She gets preferential treatment because she is a professor, rather than because she was a quilter. Class based.
  • Is it discrimination if you are given a preference? [Imagine a system of preferences given to those we know. Could such a system support systemic injustice?] Someone decides to show you "special kindness" -- above and beyond the ordinary. Language of discrimination based on "commission". But what about omission? Hard to know if you didn't get preferential treatment. Yikes! Carla got to see both what it was like to be treated same and different.
  • Most injustices of "omission" are invisible.
  • Story by Mahzarin about interview from former student journalist from magazine the professor didn't respect. Suddenly, the in-group information about being a Yaley was enough to trigger a preference. Preference networks in Ivy leagues schools. But also Gonzaga!!! We actively cultivate a preferential network for you! Because we care about you!
  • "Helping those with whom you have a group identity" is a form of modern discrimination, acc to Mahzarin.
  • Interesting feature of favoritism -- You often don't find out that you didn't get preferential treatment.
  • Favoritism doesn't get as much attention as discrimination.
  • Can you avoid favoritism?
  • Could be based on "green beard effect" same school, etc.
  • Segment 2: Dillon the Altruist 16:00 minutes.
  • What would it be like to try to overcome favoritism.
  • Story of Dillon Matthews. Tries to avoid favoritism. Middle school story. Utilitarian primer: Singer's argument about helping others in need. Thought experiment: Saving a child from a pond ruins your suit. Utilitarian altruism.
  • Singer's Principle: If you can do good without giving up something of equal moral significance, you should do it.
  • "Give Well" - documented charity work. (One of many sources that can assure you that your money did something good. Other examples: Jimmy Carter's mission, Gates' missions. If you had contributed to such a cause, you would have been effective.)
  • Hannah’s model: Value the person in front of you. Then move out to others. Courtship with Dillon involves debate over these two approaches: Partiality justified vs not justified. Debating moral philosophy on a first date! Wow! It doesn't get any better than that.
  • Effective altruism movement. The most good you can do. Evidence based altruism. Vs. Hannah: Focused on family, friends, your neighborhood, city. Parental lesson. Dinner together.
  • Utilitarian logic. Equal happiness principle. Dillon not focused on preference to people near him, but on effectiveness of altruism. (Feel the rationality, and maybe the unnaturalness of this.)
  • Dillon donates a kidney to a stranger. Hmm. Not giving his kidney felt like hoarding something. Hannah felt her beloved was taking an unnecessary risk. "Being a stranger" made a difference to her. Audio of Dillon’s recovery. Hmm. Dillon honored by Kidney Association.
  • The Trolley Problem again, this time from Joshua Greene himself!! Watch "The Good Place".
  • What if the person you had to sacrifice was someone you loved, your child. Dillon might do it. Dillion would do it. "They are all the heroes of their own stories..." Dillon would sacrifice Hannah. Hannah might sacrifice Dillion just know that's what he would want that, but no. She wouldn't. Dillion jokes that he might kill himself after killing his child.
  • Greene: She recognizes that what he would do is rational. He's willing to override it, but he might not be able to live with himself for doing that. (Elephant and rider.)
  • Segment 3: Neurobiology of Preference. 33:15 minutes.
  • Naturalness of preference. Evolutionary background: Preference promotes cooperation. Suite of capacities. A package. Don't lie, cheat, steal...
  • ”Morality is fundamentally about cooperation” (Greene): Kin cooperation....Cooperation among friends... reciprocity...semi-strangers (same religion. friend of kin. friend of friend of kin. Friends!
  • Moral concentric circles. How big is my "Us"? What is the range of humans I care about and to what degree?
  • Greene's analogy of automatic and manual camera modes. (Two systems. Automatic (elephant) and Deliberate (rider).) Difficult decisions might require manual mode.
  • Manual mode: dlPFC (activated in utilitarian thought) (high cog load). Automatic -- amygdala. Snakes in the grass. Thank your amygdala. Point: We need both systems. We need lying, cheating, and stealing to be pretty automatic NOs!
  • List: Easy calls: sharing concert tickets with a friend. Buying dinner for an intimate partner. Giving a more valuable gift to one person than another. Harder: Figuring out whether to donate money to help people far away. How much?
  • Crying baby scenario. Inevitable outcomes seem to matter here. Brain wrestles, as in experience. vmPFC (evaluates/weighs)
  • Lack of Tribal identity might tilt us toward rule based ethics. Equal treatment. Automatic systems not designed for a world that could help strangers 10,000 miles away.
  • Loyalty cases: men placing loyalty to men above other virtues. Assumptions about family relationship. Do families sometime impose on your loyalty (can be disfunctional)? [Recent example of the Jan 6 insurrectionist who threatened his family not to rat him out. They did.] The "worth being loyal to" part is sometimes unexamined. [recall the passenger dilemma]
  • Example: Spending lots of money on a birthday party.
  • Back to Dillon: Acknowledges limits. Liver story. Bits of liver. It grows back. Partners not so much.
  • Mazarin’s story about giving to alleviate Japanese disaster. We can retriever.
  • — Giving Well — you really can save lives.
  • Closing point by Joshua Greene. If you ran into a burning building and saved someone, it would be a highpoint of your life. Why not consider the same outcome heroic even if it doesn't involve a burning building?

21: NOV 7


  • Introduction to Capabilities Approach [29], Sabine Alkire [30]
  • View video on the "Capabilities Approach" to development and justice. Anna Horodecka, Warsaw School of Economics [31]
  • Today's class has no other assign reading or viewing. We will be working with ideas and theories that help with PP1.


  • "How cultures commit impersonal injustice." Afterthoughts about "informal injustice" (last class, "Interpersonal Justice").

Small Group Discussion: Is there a limit to kin partiality?

  • One way to promote altruism is Dillion’s strategy - give your money and maybe a kidney. But another way to assess altruism is at critical junctures in your life, such as between generations.
  • Imagine three futures for yourself. In all of them, you grow up to have a successful career, a family with two kids, and a medium size extended family. You are approaching retirement and your retirement and estate planning recalls a distant memory of an ethics class which talked about "justified partiality." You and your partner are wondering if you should leave all of your estate to your children or not. Remember, you will have access to this money until you die, so you could cover end of life care for yourself and your partner. Consider these three scenarios:
  • A. You and your partner retire with about 1 million dollars, a paid off house, and good health insurance.
  • B. You have all of the conditions in A, but 2 million dollars in net worth.
  • C. Same as B, but 8 million dollars.
  • For all three scenarios, assume that all indications suggest continued growth of your assets. You are also "aging well"!
  • In your group discussion, pretend you are actually making this estate planning decision. Would you give 100% of your estate to your kids and relatives in each scenario? What considerations come into the discussion? (Note: you could continue the options by imagining an estate with larger value - 16 million -- 16 billion.)

How Cultures commit "impersonal injustice"

  • Our discussion of PPNs (personal preference networks) like the Alumni Association might help us think about another category of injustice, one supported by cultural processes.
  • Main Claim: Cultures allow humans to "normalize" claims that legitimate conduct not perceived as unjust, but later determined to be unjust.
  • Think of examples of cultural ideas related to justice that were considered normal, but have since been shown to be incorrect:
  • Some races are superior to others.
  • Some cultures are superior to others.
  • Race is not just a political category, but biologically real.
  • The US can't compete at soccer. Well...
  • Women can't do math and science.
  • Women shouldn't do strenuous exercise. Etc....
  • What's interesting about "cultural impersonal injustice" is that it involves a "normalization" a set of beliefs that support the practice and that, from hindsight, we don't just say that we have different beliefs, but that our predecessors were mistaken. (Something we wouldn't say, for example, about other cultural beliefs, like attractive clothing styles or art.)

Capabilities Approach to Justice and Social Obligations

  • A bit about Amartya Sen. [32] Some paragraphs.
  • From video, with Anna Horodecka -- Warsaw School of Economics.
  • Capabilities - possibility to choose and achieve something which helps you to reach well-being.
  • Capabilities are a form of freedom -- freedom to be able to make important choices that should be provided by the social and political culture. Think of this as a competitor to libertarian freedom.
  • Functionings - states and activities related to wellbeing: health, being treated equally, a place to live, educated, having a supportive social network, a good job, travel. Functionings are more like "achieved capactities for an individual". Crucially, they are not things you can get by yourself. You need your society to support them.
  • Capabilities determine functionings. They determine our freedom.
  • Analysis of Happiness: Just being happy with your condition doesn't necessarily mean you are really happy. Normalized gender discrimination might be an example. Not extending freedom to choose functionings to women is denying an objective possibility for well-being. (In our earlier discussion, a cultural "impersonal injustice".)
  • Capabilities might be more important than income. Example of the bike -- Conversion factors - things that limit capabilities -- not being able to ride a bike or having bike lanes in your community. Anna's bike adventures in Chicago!
  • Environmental conversion factors could include problem of heating in housing.
  • Instrumental freedoms - wealth of the country matters, but there are problems with GDP as a measure of collective well-being. It doesn't measure:
  • Political (freedom to participate),
  • Access to financial institutions (access to investment and markets),
  • Access to social goods central to well-being (education, equity, childcare),
  • Transparency guarantees (open instiutions, absence of corruption, mechanisms for promoting justice, police protection)
  • Protective (Social) Security (unemployment, emergency services, protections against homelessness).

22: NOV 9: What do we owe strangers?


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 17, “The View from the Bottom” from Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Recommended p. 353-383. If you don’t have time for the whole chapter, read from 362 to 383.


  • Resources for PP1: A Continuum of Justice Positions
  • Methodological Reflection on Justice and evolution
  • More on SES and health - [33]
  • PP1 Assigned

Sapolsky, Chapter 17, “The View from the Bottom” 353-383

  • Example of social epidemiology in practice. [34]
  • tension between reductive biology which focuses on immediate mechanisms of disease and illness and social or behavioral medicine, which looks at socio-political causes of illness.
  • Famous pioneer in social medicine: Rudolph Virchow -- noticed in 1847 Typhus outbreak that disproportionately affected people living in poor social conditions.
  • Focus of the chapter on how social rank (SES- socio-economic status) is a determinant of health and mortality.
  • Pecking Orders Among Beasts with Tails
  • wide range of animals engage in dominance hierarchies -- hens, baboons -- examples of types of dominance behavior. Subordinate male baboons have elevated resting glucocorticoid levels. Chronically activated stress levels predict a range of other physiological disregulation, including cholesterol, testosterone, immune response, etc. Stress related disseases.
  • On the other hand, low rank in a dominance hierarchy in many species does not result in a chronic stress response. Ex: marmosets, wild dogs, and dwarf mongooses (359). Why? Short answer: in some species being low ranked isn't such a bad deal and being dominant is stressful. Typical factors that decide this question: being harassed by dominant members and being denied social support predict health effects from dominance. Stable dominance hierarchies also matter (for humans this would mean not expecting to get out of a low SES status).
  • Do Humans have Ranks?
  • Need to distinguish dominance from aggression. A Type a personality can be aggressive without being dominant. Studies of corporate hierarchies suggest top execs "give ulcers rather than get them". It's the middle managers who are stressed - responsibility without control. Sapolsky is a bit skeptical of these studies (363), especially as most of human history has been, we think, unhierarchical. (Hunter-gatherers were likely egalitarian.)
  • The question of dominance among humans is also hard to assess because we are complicated. You can have low status and high stress at your job, but high status from church or community engagement. We also think about our challenges is diverse ways. (You may be far from winning the Bloomsday race, but having a great time.)
  • One place Sapolsky is not skeptical about: being poor is a huge health risk.
  • Socioeconomic status (SES), stress, and disease
  • Description of poverty stress factors p. 364.
  • Poverty also limits coping strategy resources (frequent crises, lack of social support, few resources in general). Poverty reduces personal choices for outlets for stress and limits personal safety (the poor experience crime more than high SES people).
  • Only a few studies, but they support this claim. Montreal study: low-SES kids have double circulating glucocorticoids as high SES kids.
  • Health risk from poverty is the biggest effect in behavioral medicine. Cardiovascular disease, resporatory disease, ulcers, rheumatoid disorders, psychiatric disorders, some cancers, infant mortality and mortality from all causes. Low SES predicts low birth weight (which has life long effects). Could be a 5-10 year difference in life expectance depending upon the country. Nun study (367)
  • Puzzle of Health Care Access
  • You would think access to health care would explain the difference, but only part of it. SES gradient in England worsening in spite of universal health care. You might suspect that people don't get treated equally in the health system (Carla's story!).
  • But also, it's a "gradient". Marmot study used British Civil service ranking and found a gradient by job status. 4x great carido risk from low SES.
  • The SES gradient exists for diseases not sensitive to health care access. juvenile diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, for example. (369).
  • Risk factors and protective factors
  • Poor people smoke more, eat less well, don't exercise as much, have less adequate heat in winter, more exposure to crime. Being poorly educated is a big risk factor, because it can affect your understanding of risks and ways to protect yourself (the poor are less likely to wear seat belts). These are risk and protective factors. Controlling for these factors may only account for about 1/3 of the SES gradient.
  • You might think living in a wealthy country is a protective factor. One study of wealthies 1/4 of countries showed no relationship between wealth and health of citizens.
  • Stress and the SES gradient
  • Sapolsky thinks psychological factors, such as stress, may be part of the explanation for the SES gradient.
  • 1. Poor have higher stress levels.
  • 2. The SES gradient tracks stress related diseases.
  • 3. Not clear what the competitor explanation would be, if not stress.
  • Being poor versus feeling poor
  • Newer research on "subjective poverty" not just actual SES status, but also how one perceives their SES status. Research question for subjective poverty 374. Subjective SES predicts health outcomes better than objective SES.
  • Subjective SES is also about education, income, and occupational position, but also includes satisfaction with one's standard of living and feeling financial security about the future.
  • Poverty v Poverty amid Plenty
  • Wilkinson research (375): Income inequality increases the effect of the SES gradient. Other research compared most and least egalitarian states in the US (New Hampshire v Louisiana), finding 60% higher mortality rate. Canada / US comparisons also show an "inequality" effect, esp interesting as Canada is a bit less wealthy overall than US. (The inequality effect is less apparent within highly egalitarian societies.)
  • The most relevant comparison in subjective SES is to your immediate community. Could be that modern life makes for more comparisons outside of community as we see more of how others' live.
  • Technical issue (377)
  • You might wonder if correcting for inequality simply makes wealthy people less healthy and poorer people more healthy. But the Wilkinson research suggests that lower inequality improves health across SES.
  • How does income inequality and feeling poor translate to bad health?
  • Research on "social capital" -- def at 378. read ("civic participation, volunteerism, safety" "trust, reciprocity, lack of hostility, heavy participation in organizations for common good") . Kawachi research: high inequality predicts low social capital. General Trust Question (378). Kawachi argues that reciprocity requires equality, while dominance is inequality. Can't have high income equality and high social capital
  • Inequality in a society also predicts high crime rates (even better than poverty does), which visit low SES citizens more.
  • Spending on public goods - transit, safety, clean water, schools, health care -- reduces effects of inequality. In unequal society, wealthy have disincentive to support public goods spending as they depend less upon it. (pause for examples and application to current US politics.) Comparisons of Eastern block countries after fall of Soviet Union -- high income equality, but differential access to public goods. And US: high wealth, high inequality, low social capital. Unprecedented health disparities.
  • Why is the stress - disease connection so variable in primates, but so consistent in humans. Sapolsky speculates that agriculture may be the difference. Agriculture may have invented poverty.

Resources for PP1: A continuum of justice positions

  • One very straightforward way to approach PP1 is to arrange the theories of justice we have been considering on a continuum. In this case the continuum is based on "thin" v "thick" theories of justice. A thin theory commits you to less and has a lower "burden of proof" while a thick theory demands a stronger set of expectations (values).
  • We will fill in notes in class, but here are some of the main resources we have for PP1. Left to right...
  • Formal theories of justice as a framework of formal rights.
  • Could be libertarian, but not necessarily.
  • Justice not so much about outcomes and fair rules. Whatever happens as a result of fair dealing is considered a just state.
  • All of the following views embrace the idea of formal justice.
  • Rawls. -
  • 1. Egalitarian about rights and liberties (includes formal justice).
  • 2. Justifies inequality by Difference Principle.
  • Based on a theory of rational risk.
  • Capabilities view. Amartya Sen.
  • Capabilities are possibilities for choice that affect well-being.
  • For Sen, capabilities realize human freedoms.
  • Just societies create conditions for people to realize their freedom.
  • Strong Well-Being Approaches
  • Utilitarian - think Dillon. Just societies maximize well-being
  • Some Happiness Economists - Use SWB measures instead of GDP to guide policy.

Methodological Reflection: Justice from an Evolutionary Ethics Standpoint

  • Old model: We need to pursue justice and fairness to overcome a "bad thing" about us. We are fallen, we are selfish.
  • New model: evolutionary ethics model:
  • 1. We need to pursue justice because some of the really good, useful, and even beautiful things about us as socially evolved creatures create injustices.
  • "Actions from love can lead to an unjust world" (from last class). Partiality is one of those beautiful things.
  • 2. If morality is part of an evolved functional system for individual and collective “surviving and thriving” then we ought to assess the quality of the society that our values produce rather than only campaigning for the values themselves. What does the just society look like? Could a just society include a lot of suffering? A lot of exclusion? Maybe. Consider some examples.
  • Our evolved (automatic) responses have a bias toward discounting the well-being of outgroups and strangers. This leads to bigotry, groupishness, and racism.
  • One could argue, then, that partiality is justified because it is part of our evolved social behaviors for benefiting from cooperation. On the other hand, the moral limit of partiality might be found at the point that it promotes injustice. PP1 invites you to give an analysis of how we would know that we were at that point.

Resources for thinking about Justice and the limits of partiality.

  • Our small group exercise on estate planning helped us as the question of justified partiality from a "first person singular" perspective. But it really only gave you a little information about your intuitions about impersonal prosociality, generous, and maybe dozen other little things about you. But this could also inform an intuition about justice.
  • Now we consider the question from the "first person plural" perspective. "What do we owe strangers?" "How big is our "us"? What does a just society look like?. To take on this question, we need to round up some resources and take stock of some of the theories we have already been studying.
  • Theoretical and reflective resources for developing a position on the question, "What do we owe strangers?"
  • 1. Which "goods" does justice involve?
  • a. Promotion of basic subjective well-being (Utilitarian Justice) -- Do we owe any strangers (perhaps those in our social contract) an obligation to promote their basic happiness? I'll bring in some ideas from "happiness economics" here. Happiness economists critique the use of GDP as a sole goal of public policy. They point to the limited ability of money (after a threshold amount) to improve subjective well-being (SWB). Some argue that the "just society" promotes human development and that there are basic goods that at least wealthy societies could provide that would raise SWB. A typical list includes: child care, education, food security, employment security, health security, and security in meeting the challenges of aging and dying.
  • b. Economic justice (Rawls, but also arguments about Inequality, SES, and health) -- Are there economic outcomes in a society or in the world that would be fundamentally unfair or unjust? If inequality continued to increase even from normal market behaviors, would it ever be unjust? Consider the Sapolsky reading, “The View from the Bottom” here.
  • On an international level, should we think of Rawls' "veil of ignorance" on a global level? (If you were behind the veil of ignorance and didn’t know who in the world you would be, what principles of international justice would it be rational for you to assent to?)
  • c. Promotion of rights and anti-discrimination (Formal Justice / Libertarian) --
  • d. Promotion of goods related to autonomy, “actual” freedom and choice (Capabilities) -- rights, se
  • 2. Which obligations of justice extend to which strangers?
  • Strangers in your own community, your nation, and the world -- With any of the "goods" mentioned above, you may decide that they extend to different types of strangers. For example, you may not believe obligations to promote happiness go beyond borders, but you might still believe that personal or collective beneficence (charity) is a good thing. Or, you may address all of these groups with the same theory of obligation if you think obligations of justice apply to all strangers equally. Notice that the more you are like Dillion (a strong utilitarian), the less you will distinguish among kinds of strangers.
  • 3. What are the limits of justified personal partiality -- For some of you, this earlier work may set a "baseline" for thinking about obligations to strangers. Partiality is wrong if it promotes injustice and discrimination, but within limits it reflects a natural, evolved strategy for cooperation.
  • 4. Standard moral and political theoretical resources:
  • Libertarianism -- A good starting point if you feel very minimal "collective" obligations (such as through taxation). For libertarianism, the primary duty is not to impede other's rights while pursuing their life plan, but also to voluntarily aide those whom they wish to help (remember, Liberatarians can be individually beneficent). So, "live and let live," plus help those you like or feel deserving.
  • Rawls' Theory of Justice -- which addresses both rights and economic justice.
  • Capabilities Approach - a theory from development studies that real freedom involves promoting actual capabilities that people need to make choices that affect their well-being.
  • Utilitarianism -- The principle of utility has several theoretical virtues. For meeting acute human needs, it gives us a way of prioritizing need and calculating benefits. Accepting the "equal happiness" principle allows you to compare goods globally (a latte vs. saving a life). Within a single country, utilitarianism can be thought of as a theory of justice in different ways depending upon how you think about utility. If you focus on “preference satisfaction” in a market, then GDP might be a good focus for the Justice society. But if you focus on happiness, then substantive goods that make people happy - Research from happiness studies often supports these goods as a “top 6” for promoting happiness: Security about food, employment, health, education, childcare, and housing.
  • 5. Use your understanding of culturally evolved values -- We have been studying the origins and value of cooperation, as well as psychological adaptations of WEIRD culture, such as impersonal pro-sociality, impartiality in rules, and other traits that seem to orient our obligations away from kin and friends. There is some evidence that these psychological adaptations facilitate markets and some forms of justice, such as those "impersonal" virtues mentioned above. If you endorse these aspects of WEIRD culture (if you think humans "survive and thrive" better with these mental adaptations), you may draw on them in thinking about your obligations to strangers. You might argue that strengthening the bonds of impersonal virtues like honesty and trust require specific justice commitments. We have also studied two theories (Haidt and Hibbing) that help us think about standing challenges we face as a social species. You might argue that we have duties toward those in our community to help with the most basic challenges life poses for humans.
  • 6. Consult your moral matrix. Work from your identity, especially as it is reflected in your "moral matrix." Write from your own moral matrix.

“Imagining the Just Society”

  • Think of this “checklist” as a kind of experiment in triggering your intuitions (the elephant) on “what a just society looks like”. You still need to develop reasons for the vision you come up with. It’s new for me, so I don’t know how successful it will be in teaching, but here it is:

A Checklist for imagining the just society.

  • Track your agreement with each of the items below. This might help think about how you imagine justice. Whether you find yourself agreeing with the items or not, try to use your reactions to tell yourself something about your image of justice. In some cases, you might agree with an item, but not see it as a matter of justice. For each item, assume you are referring to a wealthy society, like the United States.
  • A. Basic Formal Justice and Equality. These are likely to be in everyone’s list. In a just society,
  • …the constitution guarantees equal rights and protects the due process rights of all citizens.
  • …the administration of justice promotes non-discrimination and enforces all laws related to equal opportunity and non-discrimination.
  • …there are laws against discrimination.
  • …opportunities are based as much as possible on merit.
  • B. Material rights, Moral arbitrariness, and Social justice. Some of these items involve human rights, some involve morally arbitrary traits or conditions. In a just society,
  • …it should not be possible to work a full time job and become homeless.
  • …it should not be possible to work your whole life and retire to absolute poverty.
  • …kids always have enough to eat, a safe place to live, and appropriate care.
  • …the society has an interest and obligation for child welfare.
  • …the quality of a public primary and secondary education does not depend upon the class and wealth of the school's students.
  • …we agree to pay for the public education of others’ kids.
  • …post secondary educational opportunities are not limited by personal income or wealth.
  • …some bad outcomes, like those leading to disability and inability to work, are insured by the society.
  • …some bad outcomes, like natural disasters and failures of government, are insured by the society.
  • …old age poverty is prevented, possibly by a Social Security model.
  • …your “basic quality of life” should not be determined by arbitrary things like genetic lotteries and accidents.
  • …income and wealth inequalities can be a threat to social justice because they can weaken our commitments to each other. A just society is one in which people have stable and strong bonds.
  • C. Justice in a Free Society You may think of justice as serving a conception of a free society. A just society protects liberty. In a just society,
  • …our mandatory (e.g., through taxation) social obligations would be limited to formal justice (A above), common defense, public order and safety, and some practical matters, like infrastructure planning.
  • …the protection of liberty is seen as a form of social justice, because free people renounce coercion from government or each other.
  • …everyone is responsible for their own success or failure.
  • …your basic quality of life depends upon your own efforts, plus the voluntary charity of others.
  • …you are free to choose to help others achieve happiness or not. Justice is not necessarily about happiness.

PP1: "What Do We Owe Strangers" Position Paper: 1000 words

  • Stage 1: Please write a 1000 word maximum answer to the following question by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: What do we owe strangers in our society, as a matter of justice? Consider the various approaches to justice we have been discussing and whether, why, and in what ways we should go beyond the "personal preference" we show friends and family and obligate ourselves to strangers in our society, perhaps through a "social contract." Consider theories of justice which focus on formal rights, as well as theories that argue for more substantive or material rights, like capabilities, or well-being.
  • Keep in mind:
  • You are answering this prompt in the "first person," but you are giving reasons for your view and, implicitly, recommending it as a standard. So this is not just a statement of personally felt obligation, but also a view about what we should all accept as our collective obligation. This should be reflected in the kinds of reasons you provide as well.
  • Your readers will not necessarily share your view, so you should say why your position should be acceptable to someone with a different point of view. You will not be assessed on which view (within a wide range) of justice you adopt, but on the quality of your writing and reasoning, and your focus on the prompt.
  • You should assume that any obligations you have to strangers are contingent upon adequate resources (national wealth and personal wealth). You do live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but you may not be personally obligated to help strangers if you are struggling to survive. (Philosopher's generally believe "ought implies can" - you aren't obligated to do something you can't do.)
  • For this prompt you are only considering Justice to strangers in your society, the US.
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: "ObligationsToStrangers".
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "PP1 - What do we owe strangers" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.
  • Stage 2: Please evaluate four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. Review the Assignment Rubric for this exercise. We will be using the Flow, Content, and Logic areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by TBD, 2023 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, open the file called "#Key.xls" in the shared folder. You will see a worksheet with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. Find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work below your animal name. If you get to the bottom of the list before reaching 4 animals, go to the top of the list and continue.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. Submit the form once for each review.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go back to the key and review the next animal's paper, continuing until you get four reviews. Do not review more than four papers.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, most of my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores, plus or minus.
  • Stage 4: Back-evaluation: After you receive your peer comments and my evaluation, take a few minutes to fill out this quick "back evaluation" rating form: [35]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You must do the back evaluation to receive credit for the whole assignment. Failing to give back-evaluations unfairly affects other classmates.
  • Back evaluations are due TBD, 2023.

23: NOV 14: Unit Five: Empathy


  • Robert Sapolsky, from Behave, Chapter 14, "Feeling Someone's Pain, Understanding Someone's Pain, Alleviating Someone's Pain." 521-535.
  • Hidden Brain, "You 2.0: Empathy gym" If you don't have time for the whole thing, get through the first two segments. Up to 21 minuates.


  • Mention "Imagining the Just Society" wiki notes for previous class (and the handout).
  • Briefly on our continuum of justice theories for PP1.

More on Continuum of Justice theories

  • Our "continuum of justice theories" includes formal justice, Rawls, Capabilities, and Strong Well-being theories. Last class, we worked through these theories and some pluses and minuses of them that might figure into your assessment in PP1. Today, consider the theories in terms of the different questions they ask about "what we owe each other":
  • 1. Formal Theories: "How do we guarantee equal treatment and fair rules for everyone?" (Justice is satisfied once we do this.) (Note: Formal Justice is included in each of the other theories, but can be argued as sufficient. Indeed, that is the traditional view.)
  • 2. Rawls' Difference Principle: "How am I better off (either by income or public goods) for tolerating the effects of a competitive society (inequality)? (If I can't satisfy the difference principle, then I made an irrational choice from being the veil of ignorance. On the other hand, I only need to be a little better off for it to be rational.)
  • 3. Capabilities: "How does my society help me achieve basic capabilities that promote my freedom to achieve my well-being? (Just societies focus on the "instrumental freedoms" that enable capabilities.)
  • 4. Strong Well-Being approaches like utilitarian and happiness economists: "How much does the society promote the well-being of its citizens?" (The just society is centrally focused on SWB. Happiness is a better measure than GDP alone.)

Hidden Brain, Empathy

  • Segment 1: Artist's performance art installation. Wafa. Internet connected paint ball gun. Iraqi artist, lost his brother in air strike. Thinking about drone warfare, thinking about consequences of actions... ends at 5:22.
  • Jamil Zaki, The War for Kindness. Early 70s program for faculty, mom from Peru to WSU, married/divorced while Jamil was young, felt difference in parents' rules/values. Credits that to empathy. Parent's divorce was an "empathy gym".
  • Benefits of empathy -- benefits both parties. empathic doctor-patient relationships, empathic partners. Giving empathy less depression, less stress, adolescents with emotional skill better adjusted in middle school.
  • clip from Sesame street -- phone call from friend. Three components:
  • 1. emotional empathy - feeling emotions of others, or a version of those emotions.
  • 2. cognitive empathy - trying to understand what others are feelings and why or what they are going through.
  • 3. empathy concern and compassion. concern for what they are going through and desire for their well-being
  • autism spectrum disorders. often still have 1 but not 2
  • psychopathy often have 2 but not 1
  • Segment 2: Cultural instantiation of empathy. Sarah Conrath - survey research using validated instrument. Trend toward less empathy. Examples of survey items at 14:45. A lot since 2000.
  • Other variables: Living alone. 10x compared to 1950. Hard to know about link there. pretty speculative. We are more urban, solitary, and transactional (less communal experience, more consumption experience). These interactions don't favor empathy. Internet? Might be a source of empathy, early idealism of internet. But we might be using the Internet in "empathy negative" ways -- no faces (!), avatars, text -- not great triggers for empathy. Research on dehumanizing opinions from text vs. voice. (Tapping into a long line of theory about urban life and dehumanization.) segment ends at 21:30

  • Segment 3: Costs and benefits of Empathy
  • Trauma and empathy. Could go in different directions. Hurt people hurt people. But also "altruism born of suffering". Addicts become addiction counselors...etc. Research showing that showing American harsh video from 9/11 attacks increases willingness to torture. Other research: more wary of outsiders.
  • But 9/11 was also unifying, eliciting empathy. (Change in stereotype of “New Yorker”)
  • Paul Bloom, Against Empathy - empathy tends to be tribal, Zaki doesn’t disagree, adds that -- oxcitociin studies do turn up parochialism along with empathy. Zaki draws different conclusion. Bloom thinks we should give up on empathy. Believes that empathy is trainable. Could go in different directions.
  • Sometimes we need to be less empathetic. Research on police officers showing strong empathy, even to officers in trouble. (Interesting insight on “police empathy” (good guys who made a mistake). In-group empathy (parochial empathy) might interfere with perception. High in-group empaths, even if empathic to outsiders, are not likely to allow threat to tribe. 29:23: Advice: If we want to open up to others (out groups - the people we discriminate against), we need to notice this. What if we are over empathic to our group?
  • Professionals who need to use empathy (caring professions) might suffer from its expression. Defensive dehumanization (self-protection) 31:21 -- blocking empathy for self-preservation. Example of therapist who doesn’t schedule depressed patient at the end of the day.
  • Mark Panser study (31:40) Researchers set up table in busy student union soliciting donations, happy child/ suffering child. unmanned/wheelchair. You’d think the sad child and wheelchair attendant would be a winner. But it backfired! Other examples: Crossing the street to avoid a homeless person. Maybe we (especially high empaths) avoid triggering our own empathetic response.
  • Empathy and Dehumanization: Study on whites reading about native Americans. Led to negative judgement of Native Americans to dismiss guilt (cog. dissonance). In “obedience to authority” studies, subject who shock confederates report liking victim less, death row officers tend to dehumanize inmates, more likely to lead avoidance or dehumanizing judgements. ends at 36:00
  • Segment 4: Back to art installation; how to “pump” empathy.
  • many thousands of shots. Lamp destroyed by aggressive person. Matt, a former marine, arrives with new lamp! Takes action (similar issue in Sapolsky). Zaki interprets both events. Others show up! Muffins, socks, online helpers. Virtual human shields. 36 people keep the button down to prevent panning the gun.
  • Zaki project: Used virtual reality “scenes” to have inside experience of homelessness. Scenes of typical events in homeless experience. Simulation increased empathy even 30 days later and more supportive of housing policies. (Sheds light on research showing the wealthy are less empathic.)
  • Acting and empathy. Might pump empathy. Study involving adolescents in theatre v visual arts. Thespians pumped more empathy. Reading fiction also does this. (Moth stories, story core, human interest stories on news.)
  • Manchester U fans study: Levine: study involving rabid fans, asked them to write about why they love Man U. Taken to another building, they encounter a jogger confederate sometimes Man U, Liverpool, blank jersey. More likely to pass over Liverpool jogger. Second version: Why you love soccer. Equal help. Blank jersey left behind! Point: we have some flexibility in how we frame our group membership. A station at the empathy gym!
  • Back to Zaki's childhood experience. Lesson to learn that very different people could have deep and authentic experience. Also, we can have different values because of our experiences, equally determinative in opposite directions. "Naive realism" false. Empathy helps you understand that someone’s world is as real as yours.

Sapolsky, Behave, C 14, 521-535

  • starts with "exposure to an aversive state" -- we call it empathy, but what is that?
q1: When does empathy lead us to actually do something helpful?
q2: When we do act, whose benefit is it for?
  • sympathy -- feeling sorry for someone's pain. But could also convey distance or power diff. pity.
  • empathy -- includes a cognitive step of understanding the cause of someone's pain and "taking perspective"
  • compassion -- S. suggests this involves empathy plus taking action.
  • Emotionally contagious, compassionate animals.
  • we are 'overimitative' - chimp / kids study524
  • mouse studies -524- alterations of sensitivity to pain on seeing pain; fear association seeing another mouse exp fear conditioning. Mouse depression ensues! research suggesting mice respond proportionally and to social group (cagemates).
  • Consolation: lots of species engage in consolation, chimps show third party consolation behavior, no consolation behavior in monkeys (another reason not to trust monkeys) -- prairie voles!
  • 526: rats, amazing rats -- US/them behaviors, some flexibility. review the details.
  • Emotionally contagious, compassionate children
  • 527: describes mechanism of empathy: early emo contagion in kids may not be linked to cognitive judgement as later, when Theory of Mind emerges. Neural activity follows this progression. “As the capacity for moral indignation matures, couple among the vmPFC, the insula, and amygdala emerges.” Perspective taking adds other connections.
  • Affect and /or Cognition?
  • Affective side of things.
  • Some neurobiology: the ACC - anterior cingulate cortex - processes interoceptive info, conflict monitoring, (presumably cog. dissonance). susceptible to placebo effect. ACC activates when our internal and external “schemas” of the world are amiss.
  • Importantly, ACC activates on social exclusion (Cyberball game), anxiety, disgust, embarrassment, but also pleasure, mutual pleasure. (ACC activation is maybe a good proxy for the state that empathy and compassion address: We help each other settle our ACCs down.). Empathic responses involve our ACC, which is activated by your pain.
  • ACC also involved in action circuits. Oxytocin, hormone related to bonding. Block it in voles and they don't console. Awwww!
  • How does self-interested "alarm" system of the ACC get involved in empathy? Sapolsky's hypothesis 530: Feeling someone's pain can be more effective for learning than just knowing that they're in pain. Empathy may also be a self-interested learning system, separate from helping action. Maybe not a “moral emotion” until we use it that way.
  • Cognitive side of things: How do we bring judgements about desert and character to bear on empathic responses? Chimps do. They only console victims. Reason allows us to shut down empathic responses.
  • One of Sapolsky’s weirder analogies at 532 re: the militia leader.
  • Cognition comes in with emotional pain, judgement abstractly represented pain (a sign), unfamiliar pain. (Takes more cog resources to process others' emo pain.) Also with Thems. 533.
  • socioeconomics of empathy 534: wealth predicts lower empathy. Less likely to stop for pedestrians. the wealthy take more candy! (This can be primed by asking test subjects to make upward or downward comparisons prior to the choice event.)
  • especially hard, cognitively, to empathize with people we don't like, because their pain actually stimulates a dopamine response! Empathy is part of our preference network behaviors!

24: NOV 16


  • Robert Sapolsky, from Behave, Chapter 14, "Feeling Someone's Pain, Understanding Someone's Pain, Alleviating Someone's Pain." 535-552.


  • More discussion of PP1.
  • Oxytocin — the love molecule. [36]

Hidden Brain, Empathy Gym, segments 3 and 4

  • We will start today by following the research from the second half of the Hidden Brain podcast. (see above.)

Sapolsky, Behave, C 14, 535-552

  • A Mythic Leap forward - covering mirror neurons and what they do and don't show about moral life.
  • 1990s U of Parma, rhesus monkeys under study, PMC - premotor cortex, PFC communicates with PMC during decision making (and taking action), "about 10% of neurons for movement X also activated when observing someone else doing movement X. so called mirror neurons --mirroring can be abstract, involve gestalts, fill in missing pieces, seems to incorporate (encode) intentional states. "picking up a cup to drink" activates them.
  • 537: S is sceptical of theory that mirror neurons are there to enhance learning (537: a, b, c), but allows (538) that it might aid movement learning or refining movements. Still, there are mirror neuron critics who endorse a version of the social learning theory -- learning from others (Hickok). But he also criticizes idea that MNs help us understand others.
  • 538: Do mirror neurons help you understand what someone is thinking, aid to Theory of Mind? are these neurons focused on social interactions? (stronger effect at close distances) -- but Hickok (2014 The Myth of Mirror Neurons) criticizes this as correlation, no evidence that it helps learning. and not clear that intentionality requires this kind of aid. We can understand lots of intentions we can't perform.
  • [However, mirror neurons might be a "general utility feature" in Theory of Mind without always being about learning. It could be more about a biological mechanism of communication, layered along with observation. Sapolsky cites evidence that mirror neurons interact with brain regions related to Theory of Mind. - Alfino]
  • 540: Very skeptical of idea that mirror neurons explain understanding other's actions or empathy. Specifically of Gallese and Ramachandran -- cites evidence of overhype. "Gandhi neurons" Pretty public admonishment! Cites list of scholars he's agreeing with.
  • The Core Issue (in Empathy): Actually doing something.
  • S resumes the topic of the 1st half of the chapter. Empathy can be a substitute for action. "If feel your pain, but that's enough." In adolescents (chapter 6) empathy can lead to self-absorption. It hurts to feel others pain when your "you" is new.
  • 543: research predicting prosocial action from exposure to someone's pain: depends upon heart rate rise, which indicates need for self-protection. 543: "The prosocial ones are those whose heart rates decrease; they can hear the sound of someone else's need instead of the distressed pounding in their own chests." (Echoes research showing less prosocial behavior to strangers under cognitive load, hunger condition, social exclusion, stress. Block glucocorticoids and empathy goes up.)
  • Research on Buddhist monks, famously Mathieu Ricard (digress). without Buddhist approach, same brain activation as others. with it, quieter amygdala, mesolimbic dopamine activation - compassion as positive state. (Mention hospice, compassionate meditation.). Ricard reports “a warm positive state associated with a strong prosocial motivation.” (Very much like the experience of hospice volunteering.)
  • Evidence from “empathy training” of similar change in neural activation.
  • Doing something effectively
  • empathy disorders and misfires: "Pathological altruism"; empathic pain can inhibit effective action. Doctors and others need to block empathy to have sustainable careers.
  • Is there altruism?
  • 2008 Science study: we predict spending on ourselves will increase happiness, but only altruistic uses of the money did so in the study.
  • S suggests that given the design of the ACC, and the abundant ways the social creatures get rewards from prosocial reputations (reputation, debts to call in, extra benefits in societies with moralizing gods), maybe we shouldn't be looking for "pure" altruism. (recalls that belief in moralizing gods increases prosocial behavior toward strangers.) some evidence charitable people are raised that way and transmit the trait through family life. 548
  • reminder of Henrich on "moralizing gods" and “contingent afterlives”. Probably helped humans become comfortable in urban environments.
  • Empathy and reputational interests - Research subjects in brain scanner given money and option. Dopamine response depended upon presence of an observer.
  • Final study of the chapter. 2007 Science, test subjects in scanners, given money, sometimes taxed, sometimes opp to donate. Hypothesis: If one is purely altruistic, you would expect identical dopamine responses. Follow results 549:
  • a. the more dopamine (pleasure response) you get in receiving unexpected money, the less you express in parting with it - either voluntarily or not.
  • b. more dopamine when taxed, more dopamine when giving voluntarily. Seems to identify a less self-interested person. Could also be "inequity aversion" - we sometimes just feel better when a difference is eliminated.
  • c. more dopamine when giving voluntarily than taxed.
  • In the end, Sapolsky thinks empathy is still a puzzling product of evolution. Altruism and reciprocity are linked however, so maybe we should stop scratching our heads about "pure altruism".
  • Seems to endorse the idea that altruism (compassionate empathy) is trainable -- like potty training, riding a bike, telling the truth! So don't forget your workouts at empathy gym!

Small Group

  • Our evidence from this unit suggests that we experience empathy differently depending upon environmental conditions, our experience, and our “habits of the heart”. For some of us, the ACC and amygdala go crazy in the presence of other’s pain. Others are more like Matthieu Richard, who keep calm in the face of others’ pain. Keeping calm may be a key to compassionate action. Based on our reading and discussion, is this something you can work on at the “empathy gym”? Would you want to? Is “parochial empathy” a better route?

25: NOV 21: Unit Six: Moral Responsibility and Punishment



  • Some basics of the moral responsibilty and free will discussion

Introduction to philosophical problems with Moral Responsibility and the Law

  • Basic Questions:
  • 1. Do we praise people for things that they don't deserve credit for and blame people for things that are not their fault?
  • 2. Is our concept of moral responsibility (and all of the behaviors and institutions based on it) wrong somehow? Is it out of sync with ideas about free will, what we know about the brain, and the causes of crime?
  • 3. What exactly do we mean when we say, "You are responsible for that"? Start a list. Causal, moral, both, neither. Do you find yourself referencing some idea of a "normally competent person"? When would you also hold someone responsible for becoming a normally competent person? What sorts of conditions make is more or less likely that you will become a normally competent person?
  • 4. If we clarify our understanding of moral responsibility, will we still approach criminal punishment with retributive intent?
  • Some concepts for thinking about moral responsibility:
  • Moral Responsibility - The idea that people can be held responsible, in some fashion, for their actions. Two main kinds of moral responsibility are "desert-based or "moral desert" moral responsibility" (db-MR) and "accountability moral responsibility" (accountability).
  • Moral desert Responsibility (db-MR) -
  • Def: You "morally deserve" something because you did (or failed to do) something that you knew you were expected to do or not do. It follows that you areblameworthy and deserving of punishment. Typically, retributive punishment - pain (from fines or incarceration) proportional to offense. (You can also talk about "deserving" something good...)
  • You might deserve blame for failing any of a wide range of expectations. Expectations can come from friends and family, from social norms, or from the law. Examples: Your partner expects you to call if you are late for dinner (they should accept responsibility), you deserve to be treated civilly by others, you worked a shift and deserve to be paid. You failed to observe the speed limit and you deserve a ticket.
  • Difficulties arise when we consider "excuses" and "limiting conditions". You're late for dinner because you helped save someone's life or because your alcoholism led you to a bar. You have Kluwer-Bucy syndrome.
  • Accountability Moral Responsibility -
  • If we just want to understand why someone failed in their responsibility, we might ask them to give an "account" of their behavior and thinking ("What were you thinking!?") Giving an account of someone as having done or failed to do things we normally expect of others can be done quite apart from holding someone blameworthy (as in in desert-based MR). This might be an important distinction if you become a skeptic about moral responsibility. You can still have accountability MR without db-MR.
  • Def: The idea that you have to give an account of your actions, typically when you violate serious laws or expectations. Accountability MR is typically focused on understanding potential threats to society from an offender and, where possible rehabilitating offenders. Accountability MR may include accepting restrictions on one's liberty, from incarceration to probationary restrictions.
  • Moral desert can be contrasted to what you deserve just because of your status, as in rights. This is also called "moral standing".
  • Moral desert can also be contrasted with "morally arbitrary" (recall Rawls). So, we would say you do not deserve praise or blame for things that are "morally arbitrary": things you did little or nothing to achieve (like an inheritance), things about you that were just your good fortune (good impulse control, a good noodle, athletic ability, at ease in social life...) or deficits and challenges that you have that you did nothing to deserve (having epilepsy). Some philosophers will say that you don't deserve to be blamed for things that are morally arbitrary.
  • Free will and responsibility -- Most people would agree that if we cannot freely will our actions, we cannot be held responsible for them. But what sort of free will is required? Is normal choosing (neurologically described) free will or do we have to break with the causal fabric of the universe! (Libertarian Free will). If the world is deterministic, everything has been "decided" (Including basketball games!). Does that mean there is no free will, or just that it might not be what we think it is?

Radio Lab Episode on Blame and Moral Responsibility

  • Segment 1: Story of Kevin and his wife, Janet. Kevin is arrested for child pornography.
  • 15 years earlier. Epilepsy seizures returned after surgery two years earlier. Can't drive so he meets Janet from work, who drives him to work. Romance... Still more seizures. Another surgery. Music ability in tact. But then his food and sexual appetites grew, played songs on the piano for hours. Disturbing behavior. Really disturbing behavior.
  • Reporter tries to get at who it was who did it. Kevin claims compulsion. Downloads and deletes files.
  • Orin Devinsky: Kevin’s neurologist. Testified in court that it wasn't Kevin's fault.
  • Neurological dive: deep parts of our brain can generate weird thoughts, but we have a "censor". Maybe Kevin lost that part of his brain. Observed in post-surgery monkeys.
  • Lee Vartan, prosecutor -- Can't be impulse control. Porn at home, but not at work. He must have known that it was wrong. But Tourette's can be circumstantially triggered even though it is clearly neurological. Poignant exchange with Janet about staying in the relationship. Could you have stayed in the relationship? Kluwer-Bucy. Months before sentencing. Medication makes him normal, but eliminates his libido. 5 yrs. - home arrest. Judge acknowledges prosecutor's point. How does the legal system assign blame when you are sometimes “in control” and sometimes not? She adds: You could have asked for help. (Reflect on this a bit.) 24 months federal prison 25 months of house arrest. 2008-2010. Do you agree with prosecutor's Vartan's point? The Judge's additional point? Why or why not? Consider other fact patterns / cases. Are there cases where "could have asked for help" doesn't carry weight? This one? What would your sentence have been, especially in light of the anti-libido meds? (Short group discussion on questions in bold.)
  • Segment 2: Blame - person or brain. (26:30 mins)
  • Nita Farahany - neurolaw professor (law and philosophy!). Might be lots of cases. One count: 1600 cases from 1% sampled. (Counter-argument: Isn't this just like blaming everything else for what you do wrong? Isn't it too easy?). Thought experiment: Imagine a deaf person, who can’t hear a child in burning building. You wouldn't hold the deaf person liable for the death of the child. "Emotional inability" would also be damage to a physical structure (as in the ear).
  • David Eagleman, Neuroscientist - Makes critical point: Neuroscience isn't so precise. Like looking at earth from space. New technologies may show us how experience is written in our brain. (Back to Descartes: mind is the ghost in the machine.) Slippery slope, the brain is always involved. Even healthy brain. Blameworthiness might be the wrong question. Person vs. biology doesn't really make sense anymore. The "choosey part” of the brain (the homunculus! - Explain: Sapolsky will make fun of this idea.) 36:00 minutes. Funny exchange. Self-modification comes up. The choosey part is also part of the brain. One system. Raises possibility that all decisions are determined.
  • Claim from Eagleman: Legal system should drop moral blame. Adopt utilitarian approach. Predict recidivism. Point system exists for sex offenders. Better than people’s "unguided judgement" (50% accurate). Point system and algorithm: 70%. Currently there is appearance bias for example from juries. [Mention controversies over sentencing algorithms [37].
  • A point system might be very predictive, but it might involve convicting someone of a future crime. Would it be? Would that be ok?
  • Nita Frahany - Blame might serve social function of articulating norms.
  • Segment 3: Dear Hector / Dear Ivan
  • Bianca Giaever (radio producer who did the story on Hector) - Hector Black, 86. Hector's backstory - WWII vet, Harvard, joins civil rights movement in Atlanta, moves South, adopts Patricia, a neglected child who lived nearby. Patricia's story (becomes a beautiful and productive person), college, adopts kids -- Patricia is murdered (strangled) and raped by Ivan Simpson. Hector feels retributive impulse. Ivan confesses. Hector considers whether he wishes the death penalty for him, decides no. Hector's statement at sentencing. Writes a letter of forgiveness to the murderer, which starts correspondence. Is it important that Ivan doesn’t forgive himself? Ivan's story - son of schizophrenic mom, adopted, horror. Ivan abused. Mom tries to drown Ivan and two other children.
  • Ivan tells the original story of Patricia's murder. Burglary. Drug use. Returns to Patricia’s house. Conversation with Patricia. Didn’t originally intend to kill her. Patricia give him food. Gets high on crack. Ivan hears a voice that sometimes comes to him. Commits the murder. Can't make sense of it. Wants death penalty.
  • Do we still blame Ivan Simpson the same way? Hector tells his story. Many letters exchanged. A strange bond. Hector has self-doubts about his behavior toward Ivan - sending care packages to Ivan???. (Maybe he's just a weird guy or is he on to something?) How do you evaluate Hector’s approach to Ivan?
  • Does Ivan's story change your view of the kind of threat he poses -- one from choosing evil/failing a responsibility vs. compulsion?’’’

Small Group Discussion: Thought Experiment on Praise and Blame

  • Work through the thought experiment above, sharing your responses to Conditions 1 and 2. Do these comparisons make you less certain about the basis of moral responsibility? When you are ready, fill out this google form about the thought experiment:
  • Try to think of some clear cases in which you would blame yourself (or blame someone else) for failing a specific moral responsibility. Make a list with different levels of seriousness. Include a few cases of criminal conduct, but mostly stay with interpersonal responsibility contexts. (Example: I would blame myself if I failed to prepare for class because I got distracted reading magazines. -Alfino) In each case, try to think about what you "deserve" or "ought to have to do" in light of your failure. Is it always a penalty (from nominal penalty to one proportion to failure)? Does it always involve "deserving blame"? When does it? Hopefully, this helps us think about praise and blame in actual contexts. Please bring 1-3 items from your list back to the whole class.

26: NOV 28. When is it "us" who did it?


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613) (Part One 580-598)

Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will

  • Discusses professional interaction between biologists and legal scholars that may have started “neurolaw”. Conferences, Innocence Project (350 exonerated, 20 from death row). Sapolsky focusing on narrow range of topics, exclusions p. 582.( science in courtroom, min IQ for death sentence, cognitive bias in jurors, cognitive privacy)
  • Cites his liberal credentials, but claims he’s not taking a liberal stance.
  • 583: Historic example of scientific evidence disrupting criteria for guilt in witches trials, mid-16th century. Older women might not be able to cry. Liberals, is S’s view, focus on making small adjustments (not prosecuting older women with failing tear ducts), but he’s going big:
  • Radical claim: Current criminal justice system needs to be replaced. (Must be said, this is also a liberal reform.)
  • Three Perspectives on Free Will
  • 1. Complete free will; 2. No free will; 3. Somewhere in between.
  • No one now disputes that we sometimes are not free (epilepsy example). Problem is how to think about it. Sometimes it’s not “him” but “his disease”. Sapolsky will be critical of the idea that you can make this separation.
  • Yet medieval europe tried animals for guilt. (Sounds weirder than it is. Just imagine it's about the act, not criminal intent.) Ok, it's still pretty weird... Inference: We don’t have complete conscious control of our actions.
  • Drawing Lines in the Sand 586
  • S Endorses a broad compatibilism = Free will is compatible with determinism..
  • But most people talk like “libertarian dualists”, what he calls “mitigated free will”. Sapolsky will try to show that this view doesn’t hold up, in part because it depends up arbitrary use of a “homonculus” to explain things.
  • 1842: M’Naghten. Rule at 587. Mentally ill murderer. Many objected to his not being found guilty. John Hinckley. Again, many objected. Law passed restricting insanity defense in federal crimes.
  • "Mitigated free will" homunculus view: (read at 588. Funny, but that is how many people think.) We all more or less think this way and then the problem of responsibility comes down to figuring out what to expect from the homunculus. Note his humorous/sarcastic description of it. What is it capable of or should have been capable of. This is our "folk psychology" of free will.
  • Age, Maturity of Groups, Maturity of Individuals
  • 2005 case Roper v. Simmons. Age limit of 18 on executions and life terms. Follows debates on this. 590.
  • 2010 and 2012 cases on rehab for juvies. age related bounds on free will (in the justice system).
  • Brain damage to rationality as a criterion
  • Morse: critic of neuroscience in courtroom, but allows for ”grossly impaired rationality”. [Note: The law is mostly interested in "rationality" not free will.]
  • Some views Sapolsky finds hard to accept:
  • Gazzaniga’s view: FW is an illusion, but we should still punish. Responsibility is a social level concern. (This view makes more sense than Sapolsky sees.)
  • Deliberate actions are "free" - doesn't make sense of brain processes.
  • Time course of decision making.
  • Disputes about the maturity of adolescents: APA has spoken both ways in court: not mature enough for criminal resp., but mature enough to make an abortion decision. Might be contradictory unless you think that the immaturity affects impulse control more.
  • Causation and Compulsion
  • You might defend mitigated FW by distinguishing causation from compulsion: not everything that causes us to act is a compulsion, but for some, it is.
  • Works through example of schizophrenic hearing voices. Not all cases would be compulsion. "If your friend suggests that you mug someone, the law expects you to resist, even if it's an imaginary friend in your head." On the other hand, some say that act might be “caused” by this voice. “Thus, in this view even a sensible homunculus can lose it and agree to virtually anything, just to get the hellhounds and trombones to stop.” 593
  • Starting a behavior vs. halting it.
  • Libet experiment, 1980s, EEG disclosure of “readiness potential” — activity measured before conscious awareness of will. .5 second delay might just be artifact of experiment design. Time it takes to interpret the clock. Libet says maybe the lag time is the time you have to veto the action your body is preparing you for (“free won’t”)
  • Sapolsky’s view is that these debates reflect a consensus about the interaction of biology and free will, whatever that is.
  • ”You must be smart” vs. “You must have worked so hard”
  • research of Carol Dweck, 90s, saying that a kid worked hard to get a result increases motivation.
  • 596: we tend to assign aptitude to biology and effort and resisting impulse to free will. Sapolsky seems very skeptical that we can justify assigning character (impulse control anyway) to non-biological factors (fairy dust). Read at 598.
  • Conclusions: “worked hard/must be smart” are equally grounded in our physical nature.
  • Some evidence that pedophilia is not freely chosen or easily resisted.
  • Chart showing how we divide things between biology and “homuncular grit”. — Long list of ways out biology influence the items on the right. (Note that this applies to Kevin in the Radio Lab episode, “Blame”.)
  • Like Eagleton in our podcast, Sapolsky is saying that all of these efforts to defend “mitigated free will” fails because both sides of these distinction are part of the same physical world. There is no humunculus.

Small Group Discussion on Will Power and "Homuncular grit"

  • Evaluate Sapolsky's chart on p. 597 showing how we divide "biological stuff" from "homuncular grit". How far do you go in accepting his criticism of the distinction. (read below chart). Are there reasons for thinking we have a “homunculus” that isn’t biological? Does this lead you to reevaluate your agreement with the prosecutor in Kevin's case?
  • What is the "source" (what are the sources) of "will power"? When you "find" willpower or marshal your personal resources to meet a challenge, is there a "who" who is deciding that or is there just a competition in your head based on all kinds of things, including perceive rewards and perceived risks? Do you need a homunculus to have will power?

Some philosophers' arguments and thought experiments on moral responsibility

  • Are you a moral responsibility skeptic? A couple of interesting philosophical arguments and thought experiments will help you decide:
  • From Peter Strawson, summarized here in Waller, Against Responsibility:
  • If one is to be truly responsible for how one acts, one must be truly responsible for how one is, morally speaking. To be truly responsible for how one is, one must have chosen to be the way one is. But one cannot really be said to choose (in a conscious, reasoned fashion) the way one is unless one already has some principles of choice (preferences, values, ideals etc.) in the light of which one chooses how to be. But then, to be truly responsible for one’s having those principles of choice, one must have chosen them, in a reasoned conscious fashion. But that requires that one have principles of choice. And thus the regress. (pg. 29, Waller)
  • Strawson's argument suggests the "impossibility" of moral responsibility.
  • Mele’s Intentional Self-Modification Argument
  • Mele seems to accept the idea that in order to be responsible for how one acts, one must be responsible for how one is at the time of action. But he takes exception to Strawson’s claim that in order to be responsible for how one is, one must have chosen to be that way. He thinks there are cases of intentional self-modification that allow an agent to be responsible for what they do, without involving an infinite regress of choices. He makes his case by first developing the following thought experiment:
  • The Case of Betty: Betty is a six-year-old girl who is afraid of the basement in her house. She knows that no harm has come to anyone, including herself, who has entered the basement. But she is still afraid. Nevertheless, she recognizes that her fear is “babyish” and takes steps to overcome come it. She starts to make periodic visits to the basement, staying slightly longer each time until she no longer feels afraid. After following this method for a few months, she loses her irrational fear.
  • Mele's Intentional self-modification argument suggests that we can be held responsible for our actions because we have powers of self-modification.
  • But! Now imagine Benji, also afraid of the basement. He doesn't try to conquer his fear or tries and fails. How would you know if Benji deserves to be blamed for his failure?
  • Maybe Betty is a "chronic cognizer" and Benji is a "cognitive miser". Are these traits they for which they have "moral desert"? Some people are not persuaded by Mele's argument. How far can "self-modification" go to make up for doubts about moral responsibility?
  • Thought experiment on interpersonal praise and blame
  • Suppose you were raised in a good home and have acquired good habits. We would normally praise you for that. Now, would you reassess your deservedness of praise in light of the following conditions?
  • Condition 1: Compare yourself now to someone raise in a bad home, or no home, and who acquired good habits, having overcome many personal obstacles. Are you less deserving of your praise than this person, equally, more?
  • Condition 2: Suppose now that you look at your family and extended family and you notice that, compare to other families, yours seem to come to good habits easily. None of you really ever do anything wrong, or much. You notice that your friend's families have higher frequencies of bad or dysfunctional behavior (drugs, alcohol, just being "bad", disruptions in employment). Are you less deserving of your praise than people from these families, equally, more?

Two Positions about punishment that might follow from your small group discussion

  • 1. There is “homuncular grit” and it’s not biological. We all possess it in equal amounts and therefore we can hold everyone equally responsible for their conduct.
  • Supports a retributive view: Moral Responsibility and Deserved Punishment. Moral responsibility can be desert based since it is almost always your “moral failure” when you break the law. (Except for a small range of “mitigating circumstances”). You can be guilty and deserve punishment.
  • Implications for CJ system: Punishment is about inflicting deserved pain proportional to the offense (retributive punishment goes with desert-based MR). The pain of prison may or may not be part of the punishment.
  • 2. It’s biology all the way down. (Meaning, you and your development, and the adv/disad of privilege.) We all possess different amounts of “grit” and motivation. Unlike the humucular grit view, we are not all equally competent agents, even after excluding the mentally ill. We all have different biological traits that are relevant to determining our compliance with expectations.
  • This position may better support an Accountability and Penalties View. Society must enforce standards (through laws and regulations), but this mostly involves penalties and interventions. Penalties are less about desert-based punishment than deterring rule breaking. Speeding tickets and the threat of loss of liberty are effective ways of encouraging compliance. Society is also entitled to self-protection. However, because people may fail their responsibilities for a variety of traits and causes that are morally arbitrary to them (less impulse control, abusive childhood experiences, etc.), we should not focus on "desert" but on understanding, prevention, and self-protection.
  • On non-retributive views, moral responsibility just means “you have an obligation to meet the standards”. No need for desert-based judgement or punishment. Penalties and interventions are enough. You can be judged to have failed to meet the standard and face consequences. If penalties don’t work or the social threat is great (e.g. murder, repeat offenses), you might lose your liberty.
  • Implications for CJ system: Non-retributive methods may include prison, but we ought to seek the least confining approach to deterring and rehabilitating. Prisons shouldn’t be unsafe and unhealthy places.

27: NOV 30. Limits on Responsibility and The "growth of knowledge" argument


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613) (Part Two 600-613)
  • Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism" from The WEIRDEST People on Earth p. 146-148, (2)


  • Some limits on Ultimate Moral Responsibility
  • How can anyone be a compatibilist?

Some limits on Ultimate Moral Responsibility

  • 1. Strawson's Impossibility Argument.
  • We cannot be "ultimately" responsible for how we are. What follows from his argument?
  • 2. Mele's Self-modification argument and the "Benji" response.
  • We can self-modify, but some of our ability to do that is not up to us.
  • 3. Growth of Knowledge argument - Sapolsky
  • The more we learn about human behavior, the harder it is to make retributive punishment and "end in itself".

How Can Someone be a Compatibilist?

  • Agency as a source of responsibility for normally competent individuals
  • Even if determinism is true, normal human beings have agency. Agency is a causal power.
  • Agency includes our ability to "do what we want"; even if we lack ultimate powers to determine what we want.
  • Agency is our capacity to control outcomes and take ownership of some of actions.
  • A normally competent agent (NCA) can learn the expectations of their society and conform to them.
  • Environment as a source of responsibility.
  • We have some control of the social and economic environments that shape behavior and create patterns of behavior.
  • Failures of responsibility are partly the result of environmental conditions. Predicted by env conditions.
  • Resources that affects habit formation. (Family environments & education. Religion. Normal development.)
  • Resources that predict different patterns of responsible behavior. (SES status, Environmental pressures)

Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613) (Part Two 598-613)

  • But does anything useful actually come of this?
  • Grounds for skepticism about using neuroscience in the courtroom: Stephen Morse. Neurolaw sceptic, ok with M’naugton, but thinks cases are rare. Reviews valid criticisms he makes: 1. Juries might overvalue neuroscience images, 2. Descriptive vs. Normative.
  • Morse supports a strong distinction between causation and compulsion. Causation is not itself an excuse. But Sapolsky argues that this still involves walling off a “homunculus” and that’s not plausible.
  • Acknowledges an apparent problem. Neuroscience typically can’t predict individual behavior very much. Fictional exchange with prosecutor. 600
  • Explaining lots and Predicting Little
  • But is the lack of predictive power a problem in the argument? S. works through some cases in which probability of prediction decreases, but no less likely that it could be a case of compulsion. 601
  • 602: Important methodological point: There's no less biology in the leg fracture vs. the other disorders, but level of biological explanation is different. Leg fractures are less connected to culture. Behavior is multifactorial and heavily cultural. (Oh god, another Henrich digression. Free will has a history.) Example: how much does biology predict depression? Factors are diverse biological mechanisms, including cultural factors. (But, point is, someone can be disable by depression, just like the leg fracture.)
  • Marvin Minsky, “Free will: internal forces I do not understand”. Sapolsky adds “yet”.
  • Neat charts showing historic trend to connect social behavior and biology in research journals. 604-605.
  • If you still believe in mitigated free will:
  • Case of Dramer and Springer and the spiritual explanation for epilepsy. Biblical version with Jesus.
  • Sapolsky imagines an Inquisitor (witch burner). Must be puzzled occasionally by fact pattern. Mom has epilepsy.
  • Growth of knowledge argument 607-608. read list. Most likely option is that our kids will look at us as idiots about moral responsibility and culpability.
  • 608: practical outcomes. Not about letting violent criminals free. On the biological view, punishment can’t be an end in itself (restoring balance). Retributive punishment is an end in itself.
  • Brain imaging suggests culpability judgements activate the cool and cognitive dlPFC, but punishment judgements activate more emotional vmPFC. “A frothy limbic state”. Makes sense that punishment is costly. But we need to overcome our attachment to punishment. It is involved in a lot of unjustified suffering.
  • Recaps the transition we've made with epilepsy 610.
  • Car free will. A kind of reductio argument.

Mistake/Accident Cases

  • Generally, we don't hold people equally blameworthy for mistakes and accidents as for intentional wrongdoing.
  • Kimberly Potter - police officer who mistook her taser and gun, killing a citizen.
  • Amber Guyger - the police officer, off duty, who mistook her neighbor, Botham Jean, for an intruder and killed him.
  • A man has a heart attack / epileptic attack while driving and kills a pedestrian. (Consider variations.)
  • A man is working two jobs to support a family, nods off at the wheel and kills a pedestrian.
  • A man knows his car is close to a dangerous malfunction. When it occurs, he loses control and kills a pedestrian.
  • The tragic case of the man who left his baby in a hot car.

28: DEC 5. Punishment - Culture and Political Economy


  • Cavadino, Michael and James Dignan. "Penal policy and political economy". (17)
  • Tax rates by country.[38]
  • Crime rates by country [39]
  • Homicide rates by country [40]

In-class Topics

  • Varieties of Free Will
  • Varieties of MR

Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism"

  • This excerpt from The WEIRDEST People in the World comes in the context of a section on "universal moralizing gods" which characterize the major world religions (though Buddhism requires some discussion). H's theory is that this cultural innovation in religions allows societies to grow, solving the problems associated with living with so many strangers, something our evolved psychology did not really prepare us for.
  • The three innovations of moralizing religions are:
  • contingent afterlife: how you behave in this life determines your after life or next life
  • free will: encouraged followers to believe they could comply with moral code by acts of choice and will.
  • moral universalism: moral rules are the same for all people. (Note how this overcomes groupish morality.)
  • The rest of the excerpt goes into evidence of the effects of each feature on social life. The research related to free will is at top of p. 148.
  • What consequences, if any, does this research have for our thinking about the modern problems of free will and moral responsibility?
  • 1. Cultural variants on ways of thinking about agency make (or made, in the past) real differences in social morality, whether or not they are metaphysically grounded. They work to the extent that people can actually think of themselves as having FW and thinking this way changes their behavior. But this can also be oppressive if it overlooks the material conditions needed to develop competence.
  • 3. The philosopher's concern with the metaphysical problem of free will is hard to reconcile with the cultural utility of a belief in free will. If a belief in FW motivates better outcomes, why do we care about it's metaphysical grounding? Should we be as-if Libertarians?
  • 4. When you tell your future kids "You can do it if you try. Don't let other people control your decisions. What do you want to do with your life?" you may really be motivating them to take up a particular set of values to approach challenges. But notice this is only valuable motivationally. At some point, your parents stopped saying this so much. Instead, "you're doing fine..."

Cavadino, Michael and James Dignan. "Penal policy and political economy"

  • Huge increase in US incarceration rate since 1970s. 5x, highest in the world.
  • Two claims:
  • Diffs in penalty likely to continue in spite of globalization
  • One reason for this is that penality tracks political economy. (Think of it as a "local mental adaptation" in American culture -- like our libertarianism or our "car culture" mentality or our "suburban" mentality.)
  • Starts with an overview of the influence of the US on global penal policy. To the extent that US exerts influence on other countries to move in a neo-liberal direction there may be "penal convergence". Also, incarcertation systems are one of our global exports! "correctional imperialism"
  • Some elements of the US "justice model" (retributive punishment and retributive deterrence) travel faster than others. "3 strikes" and "zero tolerance"
  • In Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights is influential. Moved Russia away from capital punishment. Example of global influence.
  • Political Economy and Penality
  • 441: Table: Typology of political economies and their penal tendencies.
  • ’Neo-liberal'. Example: US. Free market capitalism, individualism, minimal welfare state. Social exclusion (442) - acceptance of underclass with lower access to market goods. High inequality. Tracks this also in UK, Australia, and NZ (443).
  • Conservative corporatism National interest groups integrated into political governance. Great welfare protections, but allows for class difference and some inequality. Also, still valuing church institutions. “Christian democrats” for example. Example: Germany in 2008 recession reinvests in industrial modernization and worker skills. Netherlands a borderline case between this and “Social dem corporatism”
  • Social democratic corporatism More egalitarian and secular. Sweden. Strong trade union movement, more egalitarian social insurance than Germans.
  • Oriental corporatism Japan, for example. “Corporate paternalism” High job security, structured pay scale to life stages. Welfare is more employer based obligation. Some neo-liberal influence after WWI, but more egalitarian than US.
  • Let's review some of the connections the authors make in their discussion. (bring in crime rates)
  • Table 2: Political economy and imprisonment rates. (447)
  • Is neo-liberalism "criminogenic"?
  • Possibly: Evidence that unequal societies with weak community relationships suffer from worse rates of crime. 447. Social exclusion reduces social cohesion.
  • Interesting: Weak link bt crime rates and imprisonment rates. More to do with “cultural attitudes toward deviant and marginalized fellow citizens”
  • Some possible mechanisms: Neo-liberal societies have high social exclusion: labor market and CJ failures treated similarly. The authors suggests a "feedback loop" here: the socially excluded confirm the neo-liberal narrative.
  • By contrast, Corporatist and social dem states are inclusionary, have a communitarian ethos. (Less likely to intervene, less likely to ask citizens, “Are you alright?” Old MRFW news example [41]
  • Beckett and Western (2001) and others claim that high welfare spending correlates with low incarceration (except Japan). Also, economic inequality predicts high incarceration rates.

Some Ways of Thinking about Moral Responsibility and Justice

  • Traditional/Current Theories of Punishment
  • Retributive punishment / retributive deterrence.
  • Requires very strong concept of MR and FW to be just. Retribution is justified by "moral desert". It can also involve "social exclusion" -- making it hard for offenders to vote or hold a job. One can also advocate for a punishment dimension as a deterrence. Even is not wholly "deserved," punishment deters bad behavior.
  • Utilitarian models of punishment: General principle: Goal of penal system is to reduce harm to public and offender.
  • Versions include: Public Health-Quarantine Model, Community welfare model (crime is a kind of welfare issue, also for communities), Rehabilitative approaches, Restorative justice. These models can overlap and tend to assume that crime has natural causes that can either be mitigated through preventative welfare measures (addressing poverty and homelessness, for example) or through rehabilitation, confinement, and/or monitoring. Does not require a strong position on FW or MR, but these approaches can trigger liberty objections. (Present discussion option here! Could you imagine a criminal insisting on being treated retributively? Maybe.)
  • Accountability and Interventions
  • Distinguishing retributive punishment from "penalties and interventions". Punishment is about pain. Penalties (like speeding and parking tickets) might also hurt, but they can be justified not only on utilitarian grounds, but also more simply as ways of making the standards for behavior clear and reminding us of them, e.g. promoting accountability. Interventions include conditioning liberty (staying out of jail) on getting help with a problem, suspending privileges like driving on better behavior, asking for and listening to an offender's "plan" to avoid recidivism. Using social science knowledge about the patterns of our behavior to offer solutions. Technology (leg braclets and geo-location) and options for medications (libido killers) are also morally controversial in terms of consent, but might be preferable to more painful methods.
  • Grounding punishment in the consent of the punished.
  • Consider responses you might have to causing a harm to others. "Thanks! I needed that!" "I understand there will be consequences..." But what kind?
  • Try the "veil of ignorance" approach to finding just principles of punishment. (mention law review article)
  • Substituting the concept of a "tort" where we currently use retribution to establish restore justice.
  • Instead of victims seeking revenge to be "made whole," (often by learning that a perpetrator will be incarcerated) you could see their loss as "insurable." Think about how would a "wrongful death suit" would proceed for a typical upper middle class person with "umbrella liability" coverage as opposed to someone who causes damage they are not insured for (underinsured motorists, for example)? Example of friend hurt by negligent driver Problems generalizing this as a form of guaranteed insurance!

PP2: Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Punishment Position Paper

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1500 word maximum answer to the following prompt by TBD, 2023, 11:59pm. There will be no peer review process for this paper, but you will receive comments from me along with your grade.
  • Topic: In this unit, we have explored different ways to think about free will/agency, moral responsibility, and punishment. We've looked at arguments for "moral responsibility skepticism," critiques of our ordinary ideas about free will, and the justification of our culture's approach to punishment. Draw on these resources as you also develop your own view, with supporting reasons, of free will and responsibility and how we should approach crime and punishment. For example: Are there important reasons to retain retributive approaches? How should we take into consideration the growing body of knowledge about biological influences on our behavior? Do cultural comparisons of correctional systems tell us anything useful about our own?
  • Advice about collaboration: Collaboration is part of the academic process and the intellectual world that college courses are based on, so it is important to me that you have the possibility to collaborate. I encourage you to collaborate with other students, but only up to the point of sharing ideas, references to class notes, and your own notes, verbally. Collaboration is also a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs in the class. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to NOT share text of draft answers or outlines of your answer. Keep it verbal. Generate your own examples.
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way. You will lose points if you do not follow these instructions:
  1. To assure anonymity, you must remove your name from the the "author name" that you may have provided when you set up your word processing application. For instructions on removing your name from an Word or Google document, [click here].
  2. Format your answer in double spaced text, in a typical 12 point font, and using normal margins. Do not add spaces between paragraphs and indent the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student ID number in the file. Always put a word count in the file. Save your file for this assignment with the name: FWMRandPunishment.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "3 - Position Paper #2: FW, MR and Punishment" dropbox.
  5. If you cannot meet a deadline, you must email me about your circumstances (unless you are having an emergency) before the deadline or you will lose points.

29: DEC 7. More Philosophers on Moral Responsibility and Free Will


  • Dennett, What is Free Will? 6 minute video [42]
  • Greg Caruso and Daniel Dennett, "Just Deserts" [43].
  • Some videos/websites about prisons and incarceration:
  • Prison Policy Initiative Prison Policy Initiative]: A good up-to-date overview of prison facts and some popular myths about the US prison system. Updated to 2023!
  • The Atlantic, data visualization on incarceration of African Americans [44]
  • Data visualization on mass incarceration. [45]
  • Norwegian prison, [46]
  • US Supermax prison, “Red Onion” [47]
  • ”When kids do hard time,” Wabash Prison, [48]

Using Rawls to think about Punishment

  • Recall our theories of punishment from last class. Here are two thought experiments to help you sort out your views on punishment:
  • 1. Imagine you are in the original position in Rawls' theory. You don't know if, when the veil is lifted, you will be a crime victim, criminal, or neither. Moreover, you don't know if you will live in a crime prone area, have good parents, and other factors that affect criminal behavior, like Socio-economic Status (SES). But you do know everything we currently know about the causal factors (both social and individual) that produce crime. You also know how victim's families feel and how you would feel if you were a victim of crime.
  • Here are three choices you might make. Does one sound better than the other two? Is there a fourth?
  • A. Contractors would choose a retributive punishment system, much like the current US system.
  • B. Contractors would choose a "public health model", more like corporatist cultures (Cavadino & Dignan).
  • C. Contractors would choose a "dual system" allowing for mix A and B. (Maybe using the tort concept.)
  • 2. Faculty sometimes talk about how "punitive" the grading systems in our courses need to be. This can pit "softies" vs. "toughies". As with the moral responsibility and punishment issue in the criminal justice system, some faculty (toughies) worry that if they don't give more C, D, and F grades, students will become lazy. They also might believe that a higher level of performance would occur if we put students in fear of failing the course. (!) However, other faculty (softies) have the feeling that many differences in student performance are "baking in" prior to the first day of class and grading is largely "sorting" the same people over and over again. We need to give students good information about their performance, but we don't need to make harsh final judgements. If this is true, praising and blaming students more severely than needed to motivate the work seems undeserved. Softies sometimes acknowledge the "free rider" problems with their view. Do you find yourself agreeing with one group of faculty over the other? How punitive do we need to make a particular process for it to work? What are the variables? Do you have an analysis? How would you want your kids graded?

Caruso & Dennett, "Just Deserts"

  • This dialogue allows you to see how a moral responsibility sceptic (Caruso) and a compatibilist (Dennett) might disagree about moral responsibility. Dennett defends a pretty strong view of moral responsibility but doesn’t think he’s a retributivist. Caruso defends a strong skeptical view of moral responsibility and thinks Dennett is still hanging on to retributivism.
  • Caruso: What we do and the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control. [No Ultimate Resp. thesis - NUR]
  • Dennett: [Seems to defend "mitigated free will" but instead of the humunculus, we are in “control” by virtue of the natural developments that produce an NCA.] Some people have mental disabilities that makes them not responsible, but normal people are morally responsibility and deserve praise or blame. Need to distinguish between causation and control. There are causal chains that turned you into an autonomous, self-controlling agent. [e.g. A normal person with a normal upbringing. The "normally competent agent" - NCA]. If you are an NCA, then it’s you who did it, and you can be blamed and (non-retributively) punished.
  • Caruso: No problem with NCA, who is "responsive to reasons". NCAs are autonomous and have control. But they don't possess the characteristics that would justify "basic desert" responsibility [What we are calling "db-MR"]. People don't deserve to have "something bad happen to them just because they have knowingly done wrong". Totally "backward looking". Retributivism overlaps with consequentialism (Punishing people might reduce harms and therefor achieve utilitarian ends) but the distinctive difference is that retributivist thinks punishment is justified in itself, by desert. I don't because of NUR. There may be "forward looking" reasons to keep certain systems of punishment and reward, like "incapacitating, rehabilitating and deterring offenders" [what we've been calling "penalties and interventions"]
  • Dennett: I too reject retributivism, along views of free will [libertarian] that support it. [This will be a major point of dispute between them.] But there is a "backward looking" justification for punishment: [read example of promise breaking]. "deserving of negative consequences". This is something autonomous people accept as a condition of political freedom. Analogy of sports penalties. They can be deserved. Argument against NUR: So what? We grow into our autonomy. [So Dennett’s position seems to be that we deserved to be blamed for our conduct, but not in ways that trigger retributive punishment. So, desert-based MR without retribution.]
  • Caruso: [Are you sure you're not a retributivist, DD?] Isn't "deserving negative consequences" retributivism? The consequentialist benefits of punishment don't require "desert" [but just MR as "accountability" -- You did it, maybe on purpose...]. There are good [forward looking] reasons to keep penalties. [References the "moral luck" literature from Nagel.] Luck doesn't "even out", SES affects brain development, educational inequalities....[In a word, lucky privileged people.]
  • Dennett: I'm using the "every day" sense of "deserve". I want to avoid "case by case" considerations of MR. You are "entitled" to the praise you get from good things and the "criticism, shame, and blame" from breaking the law. I'm still for criminal justice reform -- shorter sentences, no death penalty, rehab and reinstatement.
  • Caruso: It doesn't help to appeal to the everyday sense, since that includes retributivist beliefs -- 1. backward-looking; 2. just deserts, and that's what we are trying to figure out (e.g. you're begging the question). If you say that the murderer deserves to go to prison for "a very long time" irrespective of future consequences, you are a retributivist. [ Think "strike back".] Example of Einstein. We can "attribute" things to Einstein.... You do offer a "forward looking justification for backward looking MR" [Roughly, we don't get the benefits of a stable society without punishing people in the "moral desert" sense.] But that's an empirical question; it's not justified by "moral desert" but only if the consequences follow.
  • Dennett: Non-retributive punishment (visiting negative consequences on people because they deserve it) is justified in part by the need to promote "respect for the law" [connect to Henrich] Cites Hobbes.
  • Caruso: [a bit frustrated] You say you're baffled that I don't see that you are not a retributivist, but you said that earlier that there are "backward looking" justifications for punishment based on desert. But when you elaborate that, it's all about forward looking justifications. [We're better off punishing.] Cites the "public health argument" from his book. Focusing on backward looking punishment keeps us from looking at the social causes of crime. Obama quote. [Note connection with Cavadino: We're looking at neo-liberal ideology....]. Claims society won't fall apart in the Hobbesian sense.

Traditional vs. Naturalist Approaches to Free Will

  • The traditional philosopher's approach:
Whether we have free will or not depends upon our answers to two metaphysical questions:
  • "Is determinism true?" and "Are we exceptions to it?". Specifically, does causation permeate nature?
  • Libertarians believe that when we act freely, we are exceptions to the the "first cause" (like God, by the way) in a chain of actions. In other words, humans are exceptions to determinism.
  • Big Implication of traditional view: At least part of us (the homunculus) is absolutely free. Biological stuff can override our freedom only in case of force or compulsion.
  • By contrast, The "naturalist" approach (biologists, cultural evolutionists, and some philosophers) assumes we are products of nature. As far as we know, we are caused to be how we are. But that doesn't mean we can't be responsible for our behavior, just that there are natural limits to human responsibility. These limits are found by understanding agency and paying attention to how cultures shape the idea of free will (Henrich).
  • What we have, in normal circumstances is "agency." Agency is "an ability to act in the world and to make myself accountable to others." I do this by conforming my behavior to the idea of a "normally competent agent." Having human agency means that I am determined (by biology and training) to be accountable for values that help us get along together, to "evade" bad outcomes. But, as we have already said, as a biological capacity, agency varies quite a bit by person and circumstance.
  • Naturalists want us to pay attention to how we actually talk about Free Will. This will help us understand the culturally shaped concept of FW and the way biology and environment pose real limits to our freedom.
  • One tool for doing this is called "ordinary language analysis" -- We know what we mean by free will, just like we know what a "person" is. Maybe it varies a bit by culture.
  • Consider these "ordinary language" statements. How is "choosing" and "free will" being used differently in each case:
  • I may choose to take up painting as a hobby.
  • I cannot choose to become a concert violinists at this point in my life.
  • I can choose whether or not I get ready for class.
  • I have no choice, I have to turn you in to the police.
  • I can't choose not to love you, but I can't see you any more.
  • I've decided I don't love you any more. (aww...)
  • Parent to child: You can do anything you put your mind to. (Yeah, right.)
  • Parent to child: You need to try harder.
  • Parent to (older) child: You're doing fine. Just keep that up.
  • Big implication of naturalist view: Agency is about "degrees of freedom". We are not all equally free. Environments and our own biology and upbringing can constrain our freedom. On this view, free will is not a property most of us have completely (binary), but related to our actual competency in controlling our choices. NCAs can control their choice and are morally responsible for their conduct, but it's a "range concept" (true by degrees, not binary).

Dennett, What is Free Will?

  • Interviewer poses the question, “If everything is determined, how can we have free will?
  • Dennett: Free will isn’t just hard to reconcile with determinism, but also indeterminism. [If the universe is “indeterminate” that still doesn’t help us to think about being the origin of our actions. Indeterminacy is randomness.] We want to be the one’s determining our actions.
  • History of the question: People look to physics to think about FW, but should be thinking about biology. Key: FW is a biological level phenomenon. [That means it exists at the level of the organism and its intentions, not the cellular or physical level.]
  • ”Our actions are determined but not inevitable.” Inevitable mean “unavoidable”. But we have gotten really good at “avoiding.” Anticipation, corrective measures.
  • ”You can change what you thought the future was going to be, into something else.” [I think this sounds puzzling if you don’t remember that we have causal agency. Determinism doesn’t mean we are like a billiard ball on a pool table, only subject to forces.]
  • Physics level vs. Biological level.
  • ”We also need to give up absolute blame and responsibility, but there is still responsibility. “We are determined” to control our future and hold each other accountable for doing that.

Dennett's Naturalist view in Freedom Evolves

  • The Standard Argument for Incompatibilism that our Folk Psychology encourages. (Should we resist?)
  • If Determinism is true, everything is inevitable. (recall physics consult)
  • If everything is inevitable, the future has no real possibilities. (No "open futures")
  • If everything is inevitable, you can't blame someone for not doing otherwise than they did. (No "alternative possibilities.")
  • If you can't blame someone for their actions, then there is no MR and retributive punishment is unjust.
  • If you are like most people, you will not accept this argument. And you shouldn't. The question is, who has a better solution? Naturalists suggest that our folk psychology is confusing us about the consequences of determinism, maybe because it wasn't designed for these kinds of questions. So their solution is to give an analysis of the implications of determinism that makes room for free will and to show how "freedom and free willing" might arise from nature.
  • Rethinking Determinism. Here are three key challenges to the standard argument for incompatibilism (above) from naturalists:
  • 1. Determinism doesn't make things inevitable.
  • 2. There are real present and future possibilities in a determinist world, just not the "open futures" of folk psychology.
  • 3. Freedom evolved in us in nature.
  • In other words, the naturalist thinks free will and freedom (and some version of responsibility, if not punishment) are possible in a deterministic world with no "open futures". As we will see, part of the strategy is to show just how complicated we are, to be creatures who engage in inquiry and use knowledge to avoid back outcomes and create good ones. So, we might be "Determined (by nature) to improve the future!".
  • Where does all that improvement show up? In culture, but only if things go right (remember Rapa Nui!). As we know from our studies this semester, "going right" in culture means benefiting from cooperation and acquiring cultural "packages" of mental adaptations that address the basic dilemmas of social creatures like us. Ultimately, surviving and thriving.
  • So that's where we're headed. Now let's look at the naturalist's analysis in a little detail.
  • 1. Determinism doesn't make things inevitable.
  • Artificial Life research models how design can emerge from a set of artificially defined "creatures" moving in a completely deterministic manner, as in a video game. (Nerdy digression: Artificial life models can create "touring machines," which means they can solve computational problems.) Some creatures could develop "avoidance capabilities". The birth of "evitability"! You could imagine the computer programmers are acting as "hacker gods" to add design (they don't have to), but imagine instead that the creatures develope R&D capabilities, as we have. Not so implausible that nature designed us to be good "avoiders". We also have circuits for rewards and searching!
  • In evolutionary theory, we describe the emergence of multi-cellular organisms as solving problems of parasitic genes and achieving a stable organism that persists.... Nature is full of "evitability" -- ways organisms avoid harm.
  • 2. There are real present and future possibilities in a determinist world, just not the "open futures" of folk psychology.
  • If something can be "determined to change" then it has, in a sense, an "open future." (Still not the folk psychological one exactly.) In us, meta-cognitive and social processes feed into our decision making, allowing us to re-evaluate the "weights" we give to different possibilities.
  • The way we actually think about possibility when we are engaged in inquiry is compatible with determinism. Analysis of: "I could have made that putt." Makes sense if you mean "If the world hade been slightly different. In inquiry, and with our big brains, we imagine possible worlds in which the wind didn't blow or I wasn't thinking about my taxes while making the putt. But it doesn't make sense to say, "No, I mean that I could have made the putt in this world!", because you didn't.
  • We create real possibilities in the present and future by using reason to replay scenarios and approach them differently. Examples: Improving your social skills, academic skills. If it feels like your "in charge", well, you are. All of these causal forces intersect with you and you happen to have a brain.
  • 3. Freedom evolved in us in nature.
  • If freedom means avoiding bad outcomes and having lots of real possibilities in your life, then it might be possible to account for that in a deterministic world.
  • The evolution of freedom happens through the evolution of the socially evolved behaviors and structures we've been studying. (Dennett's research based isn't as up to date as ours!) Cooperation, culture, accumulated knowledge, complex societies supporting lots and lots of education provide us more freedom than our ancestors.
  • Obvious example: Without vaccines we would be less free.
  • Contrast with traditional concept of free will: binary, metaphysically opaque. Evolved freedom admits of degrees. Lots of potential implications for responsibility and punishment.
  • Implication: We are not all equally free. Freedom is powerful and fragile.
  • Implication: You can hold normal people responsible for their behavior, but there's no justification of absolute responsibility here. You can hold people responsible because they are designed to be responsible.

Concluding Course Comments

  • Last reminder: What is Morality? What are Values? How are they enforced?
  • Morality is about problems that can be addressed by values.
  • Values are expectations of others to think, speak, feel, and act in particular ways (and sometimes to refrain from thinking, speaking, etc. in particular ways).
  • We enforce values in social life by many means, from conversation about expectations, gossip about others’ behavior, and, of course, the justice system.
  • Finally, “How can I use my profound knowledge of morality to improve the world?” (Or, What can I do now that I couldn’t do (as well) 15 weeks ago?)
  • Final Reminders:
  • Cooperation is not guaranteed. It is an achievement.
  • We are constrained by evolution, but we have also achieved some freedom from it.
  • On the interpersonal level - Turn up the volume on positive and reinforcing behaviors, not only with your friends and family. Go to the empathy gym. Model your value ideals. Have high expectations of yourself and others!