FEB 24

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14: FEB 24


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 13, "Culture, context, public goods games, religion" (493-503) (10)
  • Sandel, "The Case for Equality" p. 151-166 (15)
  • Rawls Theory of Justice
  • 16 minute video focsued on Rawls: [1].
  • 6 minute video, PBS series: [2]


  • Practice Fair Contract skills on Old Case: Fair Contract Case.
  • Assigned today: SW2: Fair Contract Discussion and Writing Exercise

SW2: Resolving a Contract Dispute. (600 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 600 word maximum answer to the following prompt by Thursday, March 3, 11:59pm.
  • Prompt: Read about the Fair_Contract_Case_2. You will receive 15 points for doing this assignment on time.
  • 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: ContractDispute.
  4. To turn in your assignment, log into courses.alfino.org, click on the "#0 Contract Dispute" 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: I will review your the submissions over the break and nominate several for you to review when you return from Spring Break. You will be asked to review the nominees and identify three which you regard as the best. You will receive 5 points for completing your review on time. I will review your scoring and comments and award 5 additional points to the best papers. Nominated submissions will receive 5 extra points and winning submissions will an additional 3 points.

Fair Contract Skills: Small Group Discussion

  • Let's practice looking for fairness and justice in an individual contract dispute. We'll use this old (and imperfect) case study for SW2 from Fall 2020.
  • Then, in groups, try to assess the fairness and justice of different resolutions given the facts of the case and the concepts we have introduced. Try to give reasons for your resolution. Some of those reasons should engage our fair contract concepts.
  • Autonomy - respect for persons as rational agents, reason giving.
  • Reciprocity - the "quid pro quo" of a contract. Benefits and Obligations.
  • Background assumptions about the kind of contract and cultural assumptions about dispute resolution and negotiation (tell Italian renovation story)
  • Ambiguities, failures of clarification, but also implicit understandings.
  • Background understandings of "reasonableness" (note connections to our work with Sapolsky on cultural mental adaptations.)
  • Duties that attach to each parties' roles.
  • Obligations can also be affected by the relative knowledge and power of the parties.

Rawls' Theory of Justice

  • Original Social Contract tradition. Another Enlightenment philosophical product! See Social Contract wiki.
  • Rawls' basic intuition: Principles of justice should be chosen by following a kind of thought experiment in which you imagine yourself not knowing specific things (see list) about your identity and social circumstances. Adopting this special stance is what Rawls calls the "original position" (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.
  • List of things you know or don't know 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, fortune in natural assets, abilities, and talents, 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 health 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. As we will see, Rawls shows us one way of striking a balance between these two intuitions: It might still be just for you to earn more, but not if it makes me worse off.
  • 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. (Egalitarian.)
  • 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.
  • Note other possible principles.
  • Questions for understanding Difference Principle "a": Are the least advantaged better off in a society with economic inequality? Do improvements in the society's wealth improve the situation of the least advantaged? Do decreases in wealth unfairly worsen the condition of the least advantaged?
  • Rawl's theory is mostly a way of justifying two principles of justice, but you can also think of these principles as guiding policy. Example of policy implications of the Difference Principle. Changes at the margins should satisfy the Diff Principle. (Mention California covid reopening mandate to mitigate effects on least advantaged. Related evidence of disproportionate effects of Covid by SES (Social and Economic Standing).
  • The core intuition behind Rawls' approach is that some things are "morally arbitrary". The veil is an attempt to exclude them.

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."