Fall 2021 Ethics Class Notes and Reading Schedule

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1: AUG 31. Course Introduction

First Day of Class Information

  • Welcome - personal introduction and welcome. (Some student introductions.)
  • About the Course
  • Course Websites: Wiki & Courses.alfino.org (Some student introductions.)
  • Overview of Teaching Approach.
  • 1. Grading Schemes. You will be able to make 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. Briefly show courses.alfino.org.
  • 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 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. We will do a few quizzes early on to give you some information about your reading skills. There are ways to compensate for this with good note taking, but we will also talking about active and critical reading and how to retain reading information. (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 assignments.
  • Prep Cycle - view reading notes as you are reading, read, note, quiz, evaluate preparation. Hierarchy of skills and goals.
  • Reading - Keep track of the time you spend reading for the course. Mark a physical text. Contact me if your reading quiz scores are not what you expect. There are lots of ways to improve your reading skills.
  • Writing - Try to learn the rubric early on, read lots of other students' writing and compare scores, 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%
  • 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:
  • 1. Lots of theory from the fields mentioned above directed toward our research questions. What are socially evolved behaviors, for example? It takes some serious reading and discussion to answer that question. Major_Ethics_Course_Questions
  • 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
  • Justified Partiality
  • Empathy
  • Moral Responsibility Skepticism and Alternatives
  • First Day TO DO list
  • Make sure you can find the three course websites and that you understand what information and tools each provides.
  • Browse some links on the course wiki page, including old Ethics News!
  • Find reading for next class on wiki and pdfs from courses.alfino.org
  • Buy Jonathan Haidt, "The Righteous Mind"
  • Keep an eye out for Ethics News!

2: SEP 2. Unit One: Primers and Background


  • 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.


  • 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?

Everyday Ethics: Thinking about Gossip

  • Defining gossip is difficult, but it typically involves sharing information about someone in a way that you would not want that person to discover.
  • Small group discussion: In small groups, share your general view of gossip. Feel free to share old gossip stories, such when you discovered people gossiping about you, or were discovered gossiping. Can you recall benefitting from someone sharing gossip with you?
  • Is gossip always bad or does it sometimes serve a legitimate purpose? Imagine a continuum of positions on gossip, each justified by a particular principle. Where are you on that continuum? What principle would you use to justify your position. Can you go beyond a principle to defend and consider a "theory of gossip"? What would that look like?
  • Over the weekend, ask 2-3 people about their views and rules about gossip. Try some of our questions or just engage the conversation on its own terms. Try to figure out how people are thinking about gossip.

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.
  • 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: SEP 7


  • Hibbing, John R., Kevin Smith, and John R. Alford, Predisposed: Liberals, conservatives, and the biology of political difference, Chapter 1, "Living with the Enemy". (32)
  • PBS Aristotle and Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38
  • Everyday Ethics Discussion and Short Writing Prompt #1. Due at midnight tonight!

In-class content

  • Lecture Segment: Philosophical Theories: Virtue Ethics
  • Lecture Segment: Some Preliminaries about Ethical theory and objectivity

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.

Reading Quiz

  • Today's quiz is for practice. Here is the link: * Quiz [2]

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. (6): list of difference 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.)
  • 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 def: "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.

EE1: Everyday Ethics Discussion and Short Writing Prompt #1 (300 words)

  • Prompt: Is it morally acceptable to gossip? If not, why not. If so, under what circumstances and conditions?Present your theory about the ethics of gossip. A good theory of gossip would establish an understanding of gossip, take a position on the value or acceptability of gossip and provide a principle or rationale for that position. This ungraded assignment will count for 10 points.
  • Follow this link when you are ready to write.] Due midnight tonight!

4: SEP 9


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 328-387 (59). For this class read only pages 328-354. Use notes below also for part two of this chapter.
  • Reviewing Gossip writing.

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.
  • Preliminary discussion of writing on gossip.

EE1: Gossip Writing - 5 more points: Review items and nominate good examples

  • We'll look at some pieces together. I will start to show how you should look for rubric values in the writing you will eventually review.
  • Reviewing Gossip writing. Follow the link to our shared documents folder (always on the main wiki page, but here too and review a dozen or so gossip entries. Then fill out this form and receive 5 more points. Due this Friday at midnight!

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.
  • denying the standing (need for consideration) of a person or group arbitrarily.
  • 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 show 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, or SES experience. Basic and relatively fixed "values orientation" may be part of identity.

Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior

  • 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. Rock, paper, scissors.
  • 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: [3]
  • 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.
How can cooperation ever start? 353
  • one Tit for Tatter in a population is doomed, two might find each other, Green beard effects might help grow a circle of cooperators. If the cooperating trait included search behaviors for cooperators it would help. Cooperation could also radiate from isolated groups that wind up inbreeding. If reintroduced to a large population, they might influence cooperative payoffs.
  • Note: Reading assignment part 1 ends here.
  • Standing on Three legs -- Some examples of different ways that these three forces (ind. selection, kind selection, and reciprocal altruism) can work together in animals.
  • vampire bat
  • pair bonding (A) vs. tournament species (B) -- what follows: B-males are more violent, A-males need less muscle, in B species a few males do all the reproducing, B-males more likely to have sex with anything, A-males more likely to share responsibilities. B-species puts more emphasis on sexual selection. 360.
  • Parent-Offspring Conflict -- conflict based on lack of complete gene sharing bt parent and offspring. weaning conflict. other biological conflicts between fetus and mother. slightly diff evo agendas.
  • Intersexual Genetic Conflict -- In species with low paternal investment, a father's interest might be with the child and against the mother. "imprinted genes" part of the mechanism for intersexual conflict. If they come from Dad, it favours more nutrition for the kid. Tournament species have more imprinted genes than pairbonding (as you would expect).
  • Multilevel Selection Theory
  • genotype vs. phenotype: phenotype is the expressed individual with its specific traits based on the genotype, which is specific genetic makeup of the individual
  • Why it matters -- explanations can be sought at either level. unibrow example. Note humorous hypothesizing at 361.
  • Reviews debate in biology: Dawkins, extreme gene centered - individual genes vs. genome, less radical view, genome centered. Seems to disparge single gene selection somewhat. Gould and Mayr: phenotype trumps genotype. Selection acts on expressed individuals. Dawkins analogy of cake recipe vs. taste of cake. Could be the baker or the recipe if the cakes don't taste right.
  • Levels: single gene, genome, single pheotypic trait, collection of traits. These are among the levels in Multi-level Selection.
  • Resurrection of Group Selection: Culture (the result of advertising, ideology about cakes, etc.) can also act as a selection force.
  • neo-group selection: some heritable traits can be maladaptive for the individual but adaptive for a group. As in the Prisoners' Dilemma, to get the optimal total outcome, you have be willing to forego the best individual outcome. Still controversial. Some biologist might agree that it is possible, but that it is rare. However, among humans it seems to occur alot. Cites "parochial altruism" and role of intergroup conflict in promoting intra-group cooperation.
  • example of increasing egg production. Can't just choose individuals if egg production has a social dimension.
  • credits David Sloan Wilson and E.O Wilson. Quite an "encomeum" there! more reading. famous paper "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology"
  • AND US? How do humans fit into these four modes of selection?
  • Individual Selection operates on us, but we do not have the same profile as our ancestors. We are neither clearly pair-bonding nor tournament species (pick your favorite comparative anatomy detail).
  • Maybe we are reproductive maximizers? Famous examples of super reproducers in History: Pharaoh Rames II to Genghis Khan. But then we have the Shakers.
  • Some evidence of competitive infanticide in abuse and killing by a step parent. (These findings have been challenged, though.)
  • Kin Selection: Strong evidence of practices tracking and favoring kin. (Note for later question of "justified partiality".) 368: feuds, bendettas, bequests, dynastic rule, protection against adverse testimony. Humans with damage to vmPFC choose strangers over family. (creepy) Story of the Russian who chose country over family and Stalin's reaction.
  • So, lots of evidence, but we also fight wars against people we are highly related to. families fight over succession, patricide, fratricide, we also give to strangers.
  • 370: explanation for why we deviate so much from straight kin selection: we don't do it with MHC or imprinted genes, but we are cognitive (which includes feeling) about it. Evidence from kibutz about turning off sexual interest we see as "family". 46% would save their dog over a stranger. We can also be manipulated into feeling positive or negative toward others.
  • we used to think hunter gatherer bands were highly related, but only about 40%. already reciprocal altruism on the scene there. Conclusion: human do deviate from strict mechanisms of evolution found in other species. (Alfino: We've evolved complex and mixed strategies and can use language and reflection to rethink our behaviors and attitudes.)
  • Some challenges: hard to identify heritability for traits related to group selection. Just seems like the most parsimonious explanation.
  • Second challenge, Is evolution gradual? [This is optional reading.]
  • Is everything adaptive? [THis is optional reading.]

5: SEP 14


  • Haidt, Chapter 2, "The Intuitive Dog and It's Rational Tail" (25)

In-class topics

  • Everyday Ethics Discussion - Debrief and review of informal gossip writing.

Looking at good writing: Debrief on your gossip writing

  • I marked a version of the spreadsheet and reposted it for your browsing. At this point, I just picked a few things to point out.
1. Philosophers are touchy about definitions. I put some in red that I had a quibble with. Nobody seemed to like my definition!
2. A red "/" or "//" indicates writing that isn't "flowing" or has paragraph organization issues. Paragraph organization is your way of communicating your "strategy" for explicating your views. More in class.
3. Blue text is writing that flows well. Some definitions I liked are also in blue.
4. "Be prompt savvy" usually means that the writing has taken a rather indirect approach to the prompt. In some cases, some really good writing might still not be "prompt savvy". Remember, your peer evaluators (including you) will have a "prompt checklist" to evaluate your writing.
  • Some suggestions. Look for some of these issues in the writing you browse:
  • 1. Try to eliminate unnecessary references to you or the writing itself. "I think I believe..." Just believe. or, The approach I will take to this essay..." Just take it.
  • 2. Find a logical path for the writing. There are usually several starting points for explicating something, but each one poses a challenge: What needs to be said next? The "order of explication" should not appear random. Flow and Organization are still challenges for upper division college students. Just work on it.
  • 4. Content issue: If you define gossip as bad, you make your job very easy. This generalizes. If you say it could be good or bad, your reader will be expecting you to address both cases.
  • Good writing -- In almost all good writing of the types we are doing (explication, presentation of a viewpoint, arguments and rationales for a position) a successful writer will be able to say not only what view they came to but also how they decided to present it. Usually, you find your strategy by "getting outside of your head" and thinking about what your dear reader might be going through as they both anticipate and follow your writing.
  • Small group suggestions: Start out looking at the some of the highly nominated pieces (sorted to the top in "Everyday Ethics_Gossip" file. Then browse my mark up of writing in "Alfino mark up..." file. At some point you should compare notes with others in the group. Raise questions!

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. -- Maybe humans were once perfect...
  • 30: Plato - Reason ought to be the master of emotions. (Timaeus myth of the body - 2nd soul(emotional)), Hume (Reason is slave of passions), and Jefferson (The Head and The Heart model. Nature has made a "division of labor" - Haidt thinks Jefferson got it right.)
  • The "ultimate rationalist fantasy" is to believe that passions only serve reason, which controls them.
  • The troubled history of applying evolution to social processes
  • Wilson's Prophecy
  • Moralists (Anti-nativism): reactions against bad nativism, like Social Darwinism, 60s ideology suggesting that we can liberate ourselves from our biology and traditional morality (as contraception appeared to).
  • Nativism (natural selection gives us minds "preloaded" with moral emotions) in the 90s: Wilson, de Waal, Damasio Controversy in 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.
  • The emotional nineties de Waal, primatologist who studied moral behavior in primates. monkey fairness. (used to be in the course. See links to he Tanner lectures.); Damasio and Wilson -- 33 -- seems to be a very different picture than Plato's;
  • Some examples of evolutionary psychology
  • Evolutionary Psychology in moral psychology
  • Damasio's research on vmPFC disabled patients. They could watch gruesome images without feeling, but had trouble planning. (Phineas Gage) reasoning (about some practical matters) requires feeling. Lesions shut down the "valence" (flashes of positive neg emotions) encoded in memory. (Quick examples.)
  • 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
  • Harmless Taboo violations: Incest story; note how interviewer pushes toward dumbfounding.
  • How to explain dumbfounding.
  • Margolis: seeing that (pattern matching - auto) 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
  • 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.
  • Moral judgment is a cognitive process.
  • Intuition and reasoning are both cognitive. (Note: don't think of intuition in Haidt simply as "gut reaction" in the sense of random subjectivity.
  • 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: attempt to imagine how our elephants respond to other elephants and riders.
  • Bring up Repligate issue. [4]

Small Group Discussion

  • Go back to roach juice and soul selling. How would you react to this experiment now that you know it's a psychological trigger we have? What else works like this? (In what other contexts can you know there is an evolved psychology operating behind the scenes, but knowing about it doesn't make it an "illusion" that just falls away.)
  • Is Feeling epistemic (part of how we know the world)? Do we process information with emotions?

6: SEP 16


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 328-387 (59). For this class read only pages 354-387. Use notes above also for part two of this chapter.

Some lecture notes on Sapolsky, Chapter 10: The Evolution of Human Behavior 354-374

  • See previous class for reading notes on this chapter
  • 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 event 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.
  • 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.
  • Let's do our Small Group Discussion (see below) here.
  • 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.

Group Discussion on Group Selection

  • Let's try to deepen our understanding of the relationship between cultural or group selection pressures and our "fitness". In other words, let's continue the list, but with items that pertain to your lives.
  • How does kin selection still operate to affect our fitness and help us meet selection pressures?
  • What are some of the non-kin based cultural and group selection pressures (and sources of increased fitness) in our society?
  • What is the single biggest selection pressure facing humans today?

7: SEP 21. Unit Two: More moral psychology, politics, biology and philosophical moral theories!


  • Robert Sapolsky, from Behave, Chapter 13, "Morality and doing the Right Thing, Once You've Figured Out What that Is." pp. 478-483.
  • Haidt, Chapter 3, "Elephants Rule" (52-72)
  • The Trolley Problem
  • Watch this PBS Philosophy Crash course on utilitarianism. [7]

In-class content

  • Consequentialism - Utilitarianism

Philosophical Moral Theories: Consequentialism -- Utilitarianism

  • Brief historical intro to utilitarians: Early industrial society, "social static" (early efforts to measure social conditions). Utilitarians were seen as reformers.
  • Eudaimonistic vs. Non-Eudaimonistic (Duty)
  • Two views:
  • 1) Morality is fundamentally eudaimonistic "in the longrun" 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.)

Small Group: 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.

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

  • 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. This kind of reasoning activates the dlPFC and TPJ (temporoparietal junction) - 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. tend to look for malevolent causes more than benevolent.
  • The case for primacy of intuition:
  • Problem with moral reasoning (cognitive) view: lots of evidence for intuition and emotion. We often make moral judgements automatically.
  • 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"
  • Moral decisions activate the vmPFC, orbitalfrontal cortex, insular cortex, and anterior cingulate. Pity and indignation activate different structures. Sexual transgressions activate the insula.
  • In moral quandries, activation of amygdala, vmPFC, and insula typically precede dlPfc activation.
  • people with damage to the vmPFC will sacrifice one relative to save five strangers, something control subjects just don't do!

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
  • 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...

SW1 Intuitions Come First (600 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 600 word maximum answer to the following question by Friday, September 24, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Topic: Jonathan 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).
  • Advice about collaboration: 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 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. It's a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs. 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:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File-->Info-->Check for Issues-->Inspect Document-->Inspect. You will see an option to delete author information if it is found.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "IntuitionReason".
  5. Log in to courses.alfino.org. Upload your file to the Points dropbox.
  • 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 Thursday, September 30, 2021 11:59pm. It is important that you meet this deadline. Please do not leave it until the last minute!
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, I will send you a key with saint names in alphabetically order, along with animal names. You will find your saint name and review the next four (4) animals' work.
  • 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 1-2 animals' papers, enough to get to four reviews. This assures that you will get enough "back evaluations" of your work to get a good average for your peer review credit.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, my scores probably be within 1-2 points of the peer scores. Up to 14 points.
  • 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: [8]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. Up to 10 points, in Points.
  • Back evaluations are due Friday, October 8, 2021, 11:59pm.

8: SEP 23


In-class content

  • Philosophical Moral Theories: Duty

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

  • From Fall2020 Philosophy of food, Food News!:
  • Are there Trump and Biden fridges? [9]
  • Neuropolitics as focus of research [10]
  • 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: favorte meal v. new dish. expanded preference research to: new experiences, humour, fiction, art, prefs in poetry, living spaces,
  • Market research in politics: mentions RNC

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. liberal 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. [Alfino - I tend to associate this with other research suggesting conservatives have better awareness of "threat detection". Not surprisingly, our military skews conservative, while the academy skews liberal.]
  • Same researchers did a Dot Probe Test (measuring speed in identifying a gray dot on a positive or negative image. Assumption that speed equates 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.

Philosophical Moral Theories: Duty Ethics

  • Basic intuition behind non-consequential duty ethics: At a very basic level, moral behavior comes to us as a kind of "command". This can be felt as an external command (Divine Law) or an internal command (internalization of Divine law, or autonomous act. Duty in the modern sense is felt as a command to be true to some ideal or conception of ourselves.
  • Typical formulation of "modern" duty ethics comes from Kant.
  • What does it mean to be good? 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. (Mill comes later, but also expresses Enlightenment ideas.) 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. (Note: Philosophers just can't shake the search for rational principles. No apologies from me, but let's note the implications. Abstraction from evolved social behaviors. But maybe that's ok depending upon how we use philosophical theories: foundational explanatory accounts vs. tools, heuristics to represent our thinking...)
  • Categorical Imperative: “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. Contradiction between 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, about what counts as a good will, what counts as a principle of action (maxim) that satisfies the categorical imperative.

SW1 Group discussion

  • Once more on how to turn in your SW1 Writing===
  • How to assure your anonymity in Word.
  • How you will know who to review.
  • How we handle late arriving work.

9: SEP 28


  • Robert Sapolsky, C 13, "Morality" pp. 483-493
  • Haidt, Chapter 4, "Vote for Me (Here's Why)" (23)

SW1 Update

  • This afternoon I will send out a link to the folder containing SW1 writing, along with a "key" to show you which animals you are to peer review. Today, we will look at the assignment rubric a bit more and talk about good peer commenting practices.
  • Some thoughts on helpful peer commenting:
  • You are only asked to write two or three sentences of comments, so choose wisely!
  • "gentle criticism"
  • "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
  • General and specific -- Ok to identify general problem with the writing, but giving examples of the problem or potential solutions.

Sapolsky. Behave. C 13, 483-493

Rough topics:

  • 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.
  • prosociality - helper puppet studies,
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Neuroscience of the Trolley Problem and "Intuition discounting"
  • dlPFC in level condition and vmPFC in bridge condition.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 emoitonal 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 [11]
  • we judge ourselves by internal motives and others by external actions. Our failings/successes elicit shame/pride others elicit anger and indignation or emulation (envy?). 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.

Haidt, Chapter 4, "Vote for Me (Here's Why)"

  • Ring of Gyges - Glaucon got it right.
  • Key principle for ethical society: "make sure that everyone's reputation is on the line all the time" (even the babies in the room are keeping track!)
  • Functionalism in psychology applied to morality - What does morality do for us?
  • Tetlock: accountability research
  • Exploratory vs. Confirmatory thought
  • Conditions promoting exploratory thought (def: evenhanded consideration of alt POVs)
  • 1) knowing ahead of time that you'll be called to account; [so, transparency!]
  • 2) not knowing what the audience thinks;
  • 3) believing that the audience is well informed and interested in truth or accuracy.
  • Point: We will tend toward confirmatory thought (Hume - Reason a slave of the passions) unless our reputation is at stake (in which case we are more motivated to justify ourselves to others).
  • Section 1: Obsessed with polls
  • Leary's research on self-esteem importance- "sociometer" -- non-conscious level mostly.
  • Section 2: Confirmation bias and exploratory thought
  • Confirmation bias (def: tendency to seek and interp. evidence to confirm our view)
  • Wasson again -- number series
  • Deann Kuhn -- 80: We are horrible at theorizing (requiring exploratory thought)....
  • David Perkins research on reason giving - IQ only predicts ability to generate "my-side" arguments. Interesting criticism of education here!
  • Section 3: We're really good at finding rationalizations for things.
  • more examples of people behaving as Glaucon would have predicted.
  • Members of parliament cheat on their privileges when they know there is no accountability.
  • Plausible deniability - correct change study. Only 20% speak up unless asked, then 60%.
  • Ariely, matrix-cheating research - Predictably Irrational
  • Section 4: Can I believe it? vs. Must I believe it?
  • When we want to believe something we ask the first question, when we don't want to believe something, we ask the second question.
  • "Motivated reasoning" - 84ff.
  • Section 5: Application to political beliefs: Partisan Brains
  • Does self interest or group affiliation predict policy preferences? Not so much self-interest. We are groupish. (Interesting implications for democracies governed by political parties.)
  • Drew Westen's fMRI research on strongly partisan individuals. We feel threat to dissonant information (like hypocrisy or lying) about our preferred leader, but no threat, or even pleasure, at the problems for the opponent. the partisan brain. Difference in brain activation did not seem to be rational/cog (dlPFC). bit of dopamine after threat passes. (Important point: cog/emo dissonance is painful! -except for good philosophers.)
  • Research suggests that ethicists are not more ethical than others. (89 Schwitzgebel)
  • Mercier and Sperber. Why Do Humans Reason?
  • Good thinking as an emergent property. individual neurons vs. networks. analogy to social intelligence.
  • Statement, 90, on H's view of political life in light of this way of theorizing. read and discuss. introduce term "social epistemology"

10: SEP 30


In-class content

  • Libertarianism as a moral and political theory

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?
  • I Feel it in my Gut -- psychophysiology - based on idea that we experience the world partly through our physiology. -- emotions as "action dispositions" -- we also trigger each other (escalation: story about ac and brother in law).
  • 151: physiology of anger (it’s getting you ready to fight or flee), stress (digress on cortisol), polygraph - example of measuring autonomic functions.
  • 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.
  • Back to Kain and Rees research: bigger amygdalas of conservatives help with (or effect of?) face recognition. Threat detection. (Fits with the attentional studies of Chap 5)
  • 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 (study).
  • Study from Hibbing in 2008 (161): EDA activity correlated to policy positions on "socially protective policies" (those involving a threat). "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.
  • 2nd Hibbing lab study: Known that conservatives have strong triggers for disgust/impurity. Sexual issues in politics, for example, not taxes. Note sig: not a general skin response to policies you favor, only a cluster. (We will be covering this in Haidt soon.) 162: more on disgust -- nature's way of helping us avoid 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".
  • 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). 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.

Small Group Discussion on Physio-politics

  • 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.

Practical Advice for Better Political and Moral Discussion in Light of Physio-politics

  • List goes here
  • 1. Model exploratory thought. (How do you do that, specifically?)
  • 2. Avoid escalation of physiological responses. (How do you do that, specifically?)
  • Acknowledge insight across the spectrum.
  • Cultivate diverse relationships if possible.
  • Avoid perjorative lables.
  • Views can chage even if orientations don't.
  • Accept difference that won't change, focus on pragmatics and cooperation.
  • Humor, if possible. Self-effacing first.
  • Acknowledge physio-politics in the discussion.
  • Don't "sugar coat" differences. (Be true to yourself.)

Libertarianism as a moral and political theory

  • (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: 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.
  • Facts about concentration of wealth: 1% have 1/3 of wealth, more than bottom 90%. :*objections to redistribution: utilitarian and rights-based. Could there be forms of forced labor that come from inequality?
  • (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. More material interpretation of rights. Are you really free if you are living on the street? A conservative lib: Yes! A liberal lib: No!
  • (Some of these notes based on Sandel).
  • Libertarianism in Six Minutes (notes)
  • Historical look: 17th century resistance to oppressive conditions. “Rent seekers”. Payne. Similar to socialism and capitalism, a view about what is fair. Original Libertarians were "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, which is more socialist. Assumption of natural harmony among productive people with liberty of contract. Laws limited to protection and protection of natural rights. (Non-aggressive principle). No regulation of market. Social spending. Taxes are presumed to be coercive and confiscatory. "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. Bleeding out in the street.
  • Non-aggression principle unlikely in free market. Markets can be quite aggressive. Putting people out of their homes. Eviction.
  • Favoring economic freedom assumes it correlates with happiness. (Mention Easterlin and Happiness studies)
  • Environmental regulation seems necessary.
  • Ethics not realized in the market perfectly. Lack of information transparency.

11: OCT 5 (Heavy reading day)


  • Haidt, Chapter 5, "Beyond WEIRD Morality" (17)
  • Henrich, Joe. Prelude and Chapter 1, "WEIRD Psychology" from The WEIRDEST People in the World (1-37)

In-class Topics

  • Method Point: Adding the "Cultural Frame"
  • The Paradox of Moral Experience

Initial debrief on SW1

  • I will be sharing scoring and comments from SW1 this afternoon. We will then start the final stage of the assignment: the back-evaluation.
  • Some patterns:
  • High and low scoring writing follow the rubric. Still a good guide for you.
  • A surprising number of authors neglected any mention of Sapolsky.
  • Lower scoring writing:
  • Tended to organize content by Haidt's chapters.
  • Less likely to follow protocol for research.
  • More likely not to use any paragraph structure.
  • Less prompt savvy.
  • Higher scoring writing:
  • Choose some of the most relevant research.
  • Reported more research, using at least some of the protocol.
  • Some grade norming issues. From my assessment, we didn't quite norm of 5's as "good job". More like 6s. I dropped more 10s than normal.
  • My goal: Continue to support authors writing 13-14, but very interested in raising the 8s!
  • Advice: The learning from SW1 isn't over. You have access to dozens of examples of scored and commented writing now. Make some comparisons. Pick up some tips. Come in to discuss your writing!

Haidt, Chapter 5, "Beyond WEIRD Morality"

  • WEIRD morality is the morality of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic cultures
  • just as likely to be bothered by taboo violations, but more likely to set aside feelings of disgust and allow violations
  • only group with majority allowing chicken story violation.
  • "the weirder you are the more likely you are to see the world in terms of separate objects, rather than relationships" (Analytic vs. Holistic in Henrich C1) "sociocentric" moralities vs. individualistic moralities; Enlightenment moralities of Kant and Mill are rationalist, individualist, and universalist.
  • survey data on East/West differences in sentence completion: "I am..." (also in Henrich C1)
  • framed-line task 97
  • Kantian and Millian ethical thought is rationalist, rule based, and universalist. Just the ethical theory you would expect from the culture. (Hmm. So now we discover that some of our "tools" are culturally specific. Is this a problem?)
  • A 3 channel moral matrix - or, How should we theorize (locate) our view in the larger world of human moralities?
  • Schweder's anthropology: ethics of autonomy, community, divinity 99-100 - gloss each...
  • claims Schweder's theory predicts responses on taboo violation tests, is descriptively accurate.
  • ethic of divinity: body as temple vs. playground. (Note: not religiosity or even spirituality, but often is.) Vegetarian eating is "clean" eating, not just because of fewer pathogens.
  • Vertical dimension to values. Explains reactions to flag desecration, piss Christ, thought exp: desecration of liberal icons. (Note connection to contemporary conflicts, such as the Charlie Hebdot massacre.)
  • Making Sense of Moral/Cultural Difference
  • Haidt's Bhubaneswar experience: diverse (intense) continua of moral values related to purity. (opposite of disgust). Confusing at first, but notice that he started to like his hosts (elephant) and then started to think about how their values might work. Stop and think about how a mind might create this. Detail about airline passenger.
  • Theorizing with Paul Rozin on the right model for thinking about moral foundations: "Our theory, in brief" (103) - most societies see a vertical dimension in social space. man who robs a bank vs. child sex traffickers
  • American politics often about sense of "sacrilege", not just about defining rights (autonomy). Not just harm, but types of moral disgust.
  • Stepping out of the Matrix: H's metaphor for seeing his own cultural moral values as more "contingent" than before, when it felt like the natural advocacy of what seem true and right. Reports growing self awareness of liberal orientation of intellectual culture in relation to Schweder's view. Social conservatives made more sense to him after studying in India.

Small Group Discussion

  • Haidt introduces the “Cultural Frame” with the move metaphor of “The Matrix”. Cultures include family and kin, cultures of origin, and national cultures.
  • Questions:Does it make sense to talk about "stepping out of a matrix"? Perhaps you have had this experience within US culture as you moved from family culture or the culture of your hometown to college. Or from international travel. Do you have a parallel story to Haidt's? Share with each other some details of the “cultural frames” you inhabit.

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."
  • Literacy in Western Europe - 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 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 Christian church.
  • 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".
  • Research
  • "Who Am I? task by culture 25
  • Mapping the Individualism Complex.
  • Examples of more kin based cutlures on MR: Might be obligated to avenge a murder, prohibited from marrying a stranger. Contrast on p. 28. In the Ind. World "everyone is shopping for better relationships." (Hofstede's scale for measuring ind/socio)
  • Note Caveats to this research on p. 31.
  • Cultivating the WEIRD self
  • Research showing Inds. 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.
  • Guilt vs. Shame
  • Conformity - Solom Asch's experiments in which confederates give incorrect answers to test conformity.
  • "Discounting" as a measure of patience
  • Impersonal Honesty -- UN Diplomats research, Impersonal Honesty Game (results at p. 44)
  • Universalism and Non-relationalism -- Passengers Dilemma
  • Trusting Strangers - GTQ instrument. impersonal trust vs. trust in relationship based networks.
  • Impersonal prosociality - correlated with national wealth, better government, less corruption, faster innovation.
  • Obsessed with intentions -- Bob/Rob and Andy story. Barrett and Laurence research. Indep. research on Japanese (less focused on intentions)
  • Analytic vs. Holistic thinking. Triad Task. abstract rule-based vs. functional relationship. 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. See bot of p. 57 for a look ahead at the argument he is making about the cultural influence of the Catholic Church.

Point on Method in the Course

  • A way of framing the research we are reviewing: Three Frames:
  • 1. The Individual Frame Differences and Structures in our individual psychology for expression moral behaviors. Intuitions vs. Reasoning. Life experiences.
  • 2. The Group/Political Frame How our psychology makes us groupish. Physio-politics.
  • 3. The Cultural Frame Differences between cultures, including, for example the remarkable emergence of WEIRD culture. (Joe Henrich, The Weirdest People on Earth) literacy and the brain, Christianity as a driver of culture, catholic church as driver of cultural ideas (the Marriage and Family Plan, impersonal honesty and sociality, etc.)
  • Big question from today: How does the cultural frame complicate ethics?

12: OCT 7


  • Hibbing, Chapter 4: Drunken Flies and Salad Greens (96-117) (21)
  • Sandel, C6 "The Case for Equality" Justice (141-151) (10)

In-class content

  • The Paradox of Moral Experience
  • Philosophical Moral Theories: Justice

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. ...)
  • 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, and often wrongheaded. (Italians are more sociocentric because their culture makes them that way. Rather than, sociocentric culture function to solve basic problems, just like individualistic ones.)
  • Different moral "matrices" are connected to our personality and identity. Areguing for the truth of your moral orientation (as opposed to focusing on issues) can be like telling someone they shouldn't be the people they are. (!)

Philosophical Moral Theories: Justice as Fairness

  • You might immediately think of Justice in terms of "public justice," especially courts and criminals and cases. Or you might think of big social questions about justice, like economic justice. But we also talk about justice on the personal level.
  • We already have an political / ethical theory, Libertarianism, that has a view of Justice. Now we add a contrasting theory, Rawls' theory of "justice as fairness". We'll briefly review the account in Sandel, 140-141, but I will also asking you to watch a couple of videos on Rawls for next class.
  • Today we will focus on fairness in private contracts (Rawls' gives us a "social contract" view in our next class.)
  • Initial test of fairness in both individual and social contracts: Fairness might exist if there is an abstract willingness to accept the outcome from either party's perspective. This is usually thought of as assessing claims and interests and balancing them between or among parties involved.

Sandel, M C6 "The Case for Equality"

  • Note: We are only covering up to p. 151 today.
  • Nature of a contract: You think it is all in the words said or writting, but no! Contracts have to be "constructed" in light of background understandings of fairnes and relationship and foreseeable and unforeseeable circumstances.
  • Fairness of contract may dep. on circumstances of execution: The Lobster Cases
  • 1st case: You order, eat, but refuse to pay for the lobsters. Obligation to repay benefit.
  • 2nd case: Lobsters arrive and you decline delivery. Can you get out of the contract because you didn't benefit? Obligation based on "reliance", I made the effort to get the lobsters relying on your word. Unjust to pull out.
  • 3rd case: You order lobsters and then cancel the order 5 minutes later. Can the lobster person say "deal is a deal"? Debatable:
  • Two main concepts underlying contracts:
  • autonomy -- respecting the rationality of the parties to the contract, including reasonable expectations and reliance.
  • reciprocity of benefits and obligations
  • Seeing Autonomy and Reciprocity in examples of fair/unfair contracts
  • Baseball card trade among diff aged siblings (undermines autonomy - taking adv of know/maturity diff)
  • Leaky toilet case contractor fraud in the leaky toilet case (undermines autonomy - old people lose touch. Can't take advantage.) Can you hear Kant cheering in the background?
  • Hume's home repairs case -- no consent but still obligation. (Imagine a local example at a group house.)
  • Sam's Mobile Repair Van -- read 148 -- did the question, "What are the odds you can fix it?" create "reliance" and obligation. Was the clock running? What if he fixed the car? Would benefit alone confer obligation. Take away: make things very clear, especially if you have limited funds!
  • Squeegee men-- potential for benefit to be imposed coercively
  • Point: Contract should be fundamentally fair and guarantee autonomy and reciprocity.
  • p. 151: Stop here for 10/7.
  • Two main principles
  • equal basic liberties for all
  • differences in social and economic equality must work to advantage of the least well off.
  • Justifying the Difference Principle
  • Why not be libertarian about it?
  • Concept of morally arbitrary criteria for distributing benefits of labor: birth, class, somewhat taken care of with equality of education and opportunity, but starting points are still different.
  • Even if you could solve that problem, you would still have the problem of relying on the moral arbitrariness of natural talent -- a "natural lottery"
  • Even if you could solve that problem, you'd have the arbitrariness of what the society values (try being a basketball player in the middle ages.
  • Rawls thinks he's found a form of egalitarianism that mediates between morally arbitrary distributions and overburdening the most talented members of the society.
  • Objections
  • diminished incentives
  • rewarding effort
  • In the end, Rawls view of justice does not involve rewards based on moral desert. odd result. In trying to avoid morally arbitrary features, he arrives at something like "respect for persons as fairness" as the morally relevant feature.

Hibbing, Chapter 4: Drunken Flies and Salad Greens

  • History of research on finding personality traits that predict politcs: First, are authoritarian orientations identifiable as personality traits?
  • Nazi research - Erich Jaensch J and S type personalities; background of trying to understand WW2 atrocities; hypothesis of authoritarian personality Theordor Adorno, note quote at p. 100. F-scale for Fascism. No validity, but interesting for using non-political questions. Han Eysenck's work on "tenderminded/toughminded"; 1960's Glenn Wilson. conservatism as resistance to change and adherence to tradition. "C-scale"
  • 70's and 80s research on RWA - right wing authoritarianism. measure of submission to authority, willingness to restrict freedoms, harsh punishment, heightened hostility to out-groups. Sound familiar? Proud Boys, Oathkeepers
  • But, note: Hibbing et al assessment: 102: criticisms persist in effort to find an "authoritarian personality". But claim, "there is a deep psychology underlying politics"
  • 103: Personality Theory research: Big Five model:
  • openness to experience, ** p. 104
  • conscientiousness, ** p. 105
  • extroversion,
  • agreeableness,
  • neuroticism.
  • Two of these (**) are relevant to political orientation. Conscientiousness connected to research on "cognitive closure"
  • "What Foundation is Your Morality Built?" 105ff: review of Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory (We will get to this next week from Haidt). Note that strong theories have overlapping evidence from many different fields!
  • 108ff: Values theory of Shalom Schwartz. diagram at 109. 10 core values on axis of individual vs. collective welfare and group loyalty versus ind. pleasure. Diagram also looks like an ideological spectrum.
  • Why are political orientations connected to so many other preferences?
  • Theory 1. Politics drives other preferences. Hibbing et. al. skeptical of this.
  • Theory 2. Broad orientations drive politics and preferences.
  • Theory 3. Differences come from differences on bedrock social dilemma and mesh with other choices.
  • PTC polymorphism (sensitivity to bitterness) linked to conservatism. Preliminary research from them suggesting that sensitivity to "androstenone" is correlated with acceptance of social hierarchies.

13: OCT 12


  • 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: [12].
  • 6 minute video, PBS series: [13]


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 (coming to you Thursday). (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. 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 results: 1) Everyone is 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.)
  • research by Joseph Henrich, U BC, subjects from wide range of cultures play three simulation games:
  • The Dictator Game (a simple measure of fairness)
  • Two versions of the Ultimatum Game. One with “pay to punish” option. One with 3rd party punish 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.
  • Social Capital (early draft of Henrich book I think): market integration, community size, religion.
  • 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.
  • Bottom of 499: 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 that 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....)
  • Collectivists -- diffs from Individualists. note 501.
  • more likely to sacrifice welfare of one for group. use 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
  • interesting book [14] on deception in nature.
  • 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.
  • 516: neuroplasticity in white and gray matter in habitual liars.
  • 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."

14: OCT 14. Unit Three: Two Theories of Moral and Political Difference


  • Haidt, Chapter 6, "Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind" (27)


  • Assigned today: SW2: Fair Contract Discussion and Writing Exercise

Lecture Note on Philosophical Method: "Hitting Rock Bottom"

  • Today and Tuesday we hit "Rock Bottom" in the course. Here what that means in terms of philosophical method.
  • Direction of philosophical inquiry: toward "first principles".
  • In Classical Greece, a model for first principles comes from math and geometry. Also, Essences.
  • In a Post-scientific revolution world, with evolution on board, the idea of essences looks different.
  • Rock bottom means: Hitting a limit to the inquiry, ideally getting to a basic level of understanding and explanation that makes sense of the phenomena, here, our moral behaviors and rational thought about values. That mix of intuition and reason that has evolved in our big brained species. Morality works by using the "machinery" provided by evolution to teach, pass on, and monitor moral culture and behavior (maybe the conservative side, though we all contribute to preserving culture). It also, of course, involves the criticism of current practices and proposals for new practices (maybe the liberal side, though we all contribute to criticizing culture).
  • Where we are in our investigation. "Rock Bottom" theories for each "frame" we have been studying:
  • Individual Frame - Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory. C F L A S
  • Group/Political Frame - Hibbing et al. "Bedrock Social Dilemmas"
  • Cultural Frame - Henrich (in Sapolsky) on cultural evolution - Mental adaptations that culture makes and sustains.
  • What comes after "rock bottom"? The way up! Using the point of view we have developed to look at our experience in new ways.
  • Example of SW2. How do you locate and negotiate fairness in the context of actual differences in perception and judgement? How do I bring fairness concepts and an understanding of a contract (rider) into line with my intuitions about this case (elephant). What does my culture tell me about fairness in contracts?

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.
  • Focus on both ways that we are all triggered and ways that we are differentially triggered.

SW2: Review and Small Group Discussion

  • Review of concepts and principles for fair contract writing:
  • Conditions for entering contracts: non-coercion, equal standing (understanding and knowledge)
  • Values in contract interpretation:
  • fairness,
  • respect for autonomy,
  • consent (agreement) and implied consent.
  • reliance
  • 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
  • Ambiguities, failures of clarification, but also implicit understandings.
  • Background understandings of "reasonableness"
  • Duties that attach to each parties' roles.
  • Obligations can also be affected by the relative knowledge and power of the parties.
  • Small group discussion of the case.
  • Questions on assignment

SW2: Resolving a Contract Dispute. (600 words)

  • Stage 1: Please write an 600 word maximum answer to the following prompt by Monday, October 18, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Advice about collaboration: 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. 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. It's a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs. 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:
  1. Do not put your name or any pseudonyms in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file.
  2. Put a word count in the file.
  3. In Word, check "File" and "Options" to make sure your name does not appear as author. You may want to change this to "anon" for this document.
  4. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  5. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "FairContract". Do not add anything to the filename.
  6. Log in to courses.alfino.org. Upload your file to the 1 - Points dropbox for SW2.
  • 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 all four areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by Friday, October 22, 11:59pm.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, I will send you a key. Find your Saint and then review the next four (4) animals' work, looping to the top of the list if necessary.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow until Thursday, October 21, 8:00pm, at the latest for it to show up. If it does not show up, go ahead and review enough papers to get to four reviews. This assures that you will get enough "back evaluations" of your work to get a good average for your peer review credit.
  • You will have an opportunity to challenge a back evaluation score of your reviewing that is out of line with the others.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Assuming the process works normally, I will give you the higher of the two grades. Up to 28 points.
  • 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: [15]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. Up to 10 points.
  • Back evaluations are due Thursday, October 28, 11:59pm.

15: OCT 19


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

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.

Small Group Exercise: Working with the Moral Foundations in Political Contexts

  • Bumper Sticker / Slogan reading
  • Extending Haidt's examples of using bumper sticks and slogans to illustrate the moral foundations, please follow these links [16] [17] and browse political bumper stickers together. Keep these questions in mind as you browse:
  • Can you identify specific moral foundations at work in some of the bumper stickers?
  • Do you notice that some are based exclusively in denigrating an opposing view vs. making an affirmation?
  • Why do so many people like to use bumper stickers? Do you? Why or why not?

Tools for working with "Matrix Differences"

  • 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 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.
  • 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 intuitions. 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. Two Basic Strategies:
  • A. Explore difference gently. Monitor your vital signs.
  • B. Find common goals or things to affirm.
  • C. Model exploratory thought. (How do you do that, specifically?)
  • 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, 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)
  • 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...
  • Other miscellaneous strategies:
  • 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 difference that won't change, focus on pragmatics and cooperation.
  • Humor, if possible. Self-effacing first.
  • Acknowledge physio-politics in the discussion.
  • Acknowledge your own orientation and expect it to be respected.
  • Don't "sugar coat" differences. (Be true to yourself.)

16: OCT 26


  • 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. 2) Politics and political beliefs are fungible, change dep on time and place. No discussions these days of Stalin-Trotskyism
  • Note: Hibbing et al disagree with the second point. their thesis is that human nature is variable but politics is, at its core, dealing with a constant problem, invariable. found in "bedrock dilemmas" . The "Commonalities" at p. 37 are our "rock bottom" level.
  • Back to Aristotle
  • [M]an 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.
  • Pols 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".)
  • 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, 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.
  • Commonality Reigns! Political Universals
  • Bedrock social dilemmas (BSD): "core preferences about the organization, structure, and conduct of mass social life" 44
  • 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.

18: OCT 28


  • Haidt, Chapter 8: The Conservative Advantage (34)

Some notes relevant to the Role of Political Parties

  • I'll share some notes from a New Yorker article, Jelani Cobb, "How Parties Die," March 15, 2021.
  • Also, a slight version to our Hibbing diagram.

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.
  • The MFQ: consistency across cultures; large n; tracks preferences in dogs, church (content analysis of different denominations sermons), brainwaves (dissonance, "fingerprint", first .5 seconds) see chart 8.1 self-identified liberals split emphasis Figure 8.2 convergence of equal weight as you move toward conservative.
  • 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).
  • biographical note about tracking Obama on left/right triggers. Parental resp to social justice.
  • 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 (mod. society). Individualism vs. Organic society. (What would that mean today in US? Note that there are lib/conservatives strategies for both.)
  • 6th Moral foundation: liberty and oppression: taking the "fairness as equality" from Fairness and considering it in terms of Lib/Opp. [Some discussion here. Note relation to Authority/Leadership in Hibbing. Why explicate "proportional fairness as "Liberty / Oppression"? Liberty / Oppression seems less about proportional fairness than dominance hierarchies. Similarity to Authority/subversion, for example. You could say proportional fairness legitimates your place in a hierarchy. Also, the bully or tyrant typically takes disproportionately.]
  • Evolutionary story about hierarchy, p. 170.
  • original triggers: bullies and tyrants, current triggers: illegit. restraint on liberty.
  • Evolutionary/Archeological story: egalitarianism in hunter gatherers (add detail), hierarchy comes with agriculture. :::*Emergence of pre-ag dominance strategies -- 500,000ya weapons for human conflict take off. Parallel in Chimps: revolutions "reverse dominance hierarchies" are possible. Boehm
  • Cultural Evo Theory on cultural strategies toward equality: Societies make transition to some form of political egalitarianism (equality of citizenship or civic equality). Mentions possibility of gene/culture co-evolution (as in dairying). We've had time to select for people who can tolerate political equality and surrender violence to the state. Timothy McVeigh, but now right wing militias (though I'm not sure if their argument is about political equality). "Self-domestication".
  • Liberal vs. Conservative triggers on Liberty/Oppression: Libs experience this in terms of universalistic goals like social justice, abuse of the power of the most fortunate. Conservatives triggered more by group level concerns. The nanny state is oppression, taxation is oppressive, globalism is a threat to sovereignty.
  • Contemporary Examples:
  • After mortgage crisis recession of 2008 some like Santelli thought it unfair to bail out banks and borrowers. This is really conservative kind of fairness as proportionality, which shares some features of the "reciprocal altruism", such as necessity of punishment. As seen in public goods games.
  • Covid examples: Disproportional effects of groups unfair. Bailout contentious for triggering conservatives on several fronts. Liberals are really happy about the Pandemic Relief Bill -- more about "harm reduction".
  • 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.
  • 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.

Note on "Social Epistemology"

  • Philosophical Method point: The follow 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 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.
  • Think about evidence from Haidt and Hibbing about divergences in cognitive style and problem solving (BeanFest!) and perception from pol. orientation. They might be "epistemic demographic traits". EDTs
  • Speculative questions about such traits (I am not aware of a theory about this yet): Are there are EDTs? Maybe just DTs. Would human populations with some optimal variation in EDTs do better than ones with more or less than an optimal range? Think workgroups for examples, also.
  • Related literature: Extended Mind theory [18]

18: NOV 2


  • Haidt, Chapter 12, "Can't We all Disagree More Constructively?" (189-221) (32)

Narratives and Counter-narratives in moral/political discourse

  • Moral/Political Moral Narratives are ways of telling a coherent story about how our values fit together and allow us to "narrate" new events into the story.
  • In reference to our "layered chart", narratives are like a thread we weave among the layers.
  • Easier to see in political discourse, but also in individual moral responses to our immediate environment.
  • Example: Responses to homelessness fit into different narratives that people hold about the world.
  • In political morality then, what are some of the typical narratives?
  • Conservative/libertarians tend to see gov't failure as due to intrinsic factors. (More "good government sceptics")
  • Liberals tends to focus on narratives around harm, victims, and unfairness.
  • Conservative narratives of solidarity often about fiscal restraint,
  • Liberal narratives of solidarity often about coming together to address injustice, solve problems like climate change.
  • Can you add to this list from things you hear from current events?

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. (As in narrative warm up exercise above.)
  • "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. (Plug in Hibbing here.)
  • 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/church influence.
  • 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.

"What is Ideology?" and "Is a Post-Ideological politics possible?"

  • Some philosophizing from our research study. This might be an late semester essay topic.
  • What is ideology (in terms of the theories we have discussed) and is it possible to imagine a post-ideological politics?
  • Ideology - "your ideology" - a story you tell about human nature, society, and values that gives coherence to the specific fusion of oriention, labels, and issues that are salient to you or have been salient to you by others (including media and political parties). More broadly, "ideologies" - Marxism, Capitalism, Neo-liberalism.
  • Like political parties, ideologies can be seen as valuable -- It's natural for us to have a "working theory" about human reality and values that helps us navigate this reality. (Just like value of a physical theory.)
  • But they also pose problems for us. ideologies can capture us -- Extreme case: someone who always adverts to ideology to understand things, even if it's unlikely to help. (Libertarians not very helpful in pandemics if best strategies are to impose on liberties.)
  • Ideologies involve narratives and abstract theories (ideas of human nature, economic exchange, good government). Our confirmation bias can come into play in "capture". Being captured by an ideologies is a bit like radicalization.
  • Goal: Make good use of ideology, but allow for "ideology critique" (note limits to theories, value of multiple theories). Treat ideologies as interpretive tools, not articles of faith. (Examples)
  • Political polarization and ideology --
  • Let's use this recent radio story on political polarization as a listening lesson. Can you identify distinctive features of the way polarized people recount their experiences? [19]
  • Examples of current research found on Ethics wiki page from Fall 2020 students. Ethics_Research_on_Politics,_Conflict,_and_Partisanship

19: NOV 4. Unit Four: Justice and Justified Partiality


Hidden Brain, "Playing Favorites: When kindness toward some means callousness toward others"

Introduction to Justified Partiality Unit

  • A typical question for thinking about social justice is,
  • "What do I owe strangers?". You can think of our approach in this unit as an indirect way of addressing that question by asking,
  • "What, if any, are the limits of partiality to family, intimates, friends?

' (Your preference network)

  • 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 you to direct some resources (time, money, in-kind aid) outside your preference network?

Small Group Discussion: Questions 1 & 2

  • We have been developing a theory of morality based on the evolution of social behaviors and the cultural evolution that has led to the current range of human cultures. Morality seems to have evolved to help us address basic challenges - from reproduction to forming partnerships and coalitions, and benefiting from cooperation, managing hierarchy.
  • In your small groups think about your "preference network" (friends, family, nation) work and what functions they serve. You might start by listing "mutual aid". Do preference network serve other functions?
  • 1. What are some the social functions of personal preferential treatment? Make a list.
  • 2. Could our networks of preferential treatment be the effect of and also promote injustice? Recall the story of the professor in our podcast from today. Generate more and generalized examples.

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.)
  • How does Partiality fit with a desire for justice as equal treatment?
  • Discrimination research: IAT - Implicit association test - Mahzarin Banaji one of the researchers on IAT.
  • Mahzarin Banaji and Carla Kaplan. Friends in the 80s being 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.
  • 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"? 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.
  • Story by Mahzarin about interview. 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"
  • 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.
  • Story of Dillon Matthews. Tries to avoid favoritism. Singer's argument about helping others in need. Thought experiment: Saving a child from a pond ruins your suit. Utilitarian altruism. Principle: If you can do good without giving up something of equal moral significance, you should do it. Give Well - documented charity work.
  • Effective altruism movement. The most good you can do. Evidence based altruism. Hannah. Focused on family, friends, your neighborhood, city. Parental lesson. Dinner together. Debating moral philosophy on a first date! Wow! It doesn't get any better than that.
  • Utilitarian logic. Equal happiness principle. Dillon not focused on preference to people near him, but on effectiveness of altruism.
  • 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. Stranger made a diff. to her.
  • 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. 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, but no. She wouldn't.
  • Greene: She recognizes that what he would do is rational. He's willing to override it, but might not be able to live with himself for doing that.
  • Naturalness of preference. Evolutionary background
  • Preference promotes cooperation. Suite of capacities. A package. Don't lie, cheat, steal...
  • Kin cooperation....Cooperation among friends... reciprocity...semi-strangers (same religion. friend of friend)...
  • Moral concentric circles. How big is my "Us"? What is the range of humans I care about?
  • Greene's analogy of automatic and manual camera modes. (Two systems. Automatic and Deliberate.) Difficult decisions might require manual mode. dlPFC for utilitarians (high cog load). Automatic -- amygdala. Snakes in the grass. Thank your amygdala. (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.
  • Lack of Tribal identity might tilt us toward rule based ethics. Equal treatment.
  • Loyalty cases: men placing loyalty to men above other virtues. Assumptions about family relationship. Do families sometime impose on your loyalty?
  • Back to Dillon: Acknowledges limits. Liver story. Bits of liver. It grows back. Partners not so much.
  • How do you decide the limits of your partiality. How big is my "US"?
  • Donations matter even if you don't give your kidney. This can save lives.
  • If you saved a life in person, you'd never forget it, but most professionals in the US have this ability, if not in person.

Question #3: Finding principles and resources for developing a position on "Justified Partiality"

  • Let's define a couple of viewpoints to get started. Note that these views draw on both our study of morality as an evolved system as well as our philosophical theories:
  • Tribalism - The view that there are no limits to partiality to our social network. Just as no one has a right to my friendship, no one has a moral complaint against me if I spend all of my resources on my partiality network. The tribalist might point the importance and naturalness of having a kin and friendship social network. Helping people outside this network might still be justified by self-interest. A libertarian might arrive at a similar practical position, though from a focus on individual liberty and "self-ownership".
  • "Post-Tribal Urbanism" - Values sustaining large scale societies, supporting market exchanges (with strangers) require building social trust, impersonal honesty, and impersonal altruism. Add a "Rawlsian twist" for refreshing additional theory!
  • Utilitarian Globalism - Following the equal happiness principle, the view that we ought to constrain our natural tendency to favor our own. In principle, saving a life 12,000 miles from here is the same as saving a life in your community. So, if you can save two lives....etc.
  • Extreme Altruism - Live simply (maybe combine this with beliefs about avoiding consumerism). Maximize giving. Don't leave any organs un-recycled. A bit of liver can go a long way!

Small Group Discussion #2: How Big is Your "Us"?

  • 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. 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 indication suggest continued growth of your assets.
  • In each scenario, how much, if any, of your estate would you will to people or causes that do not benefit people in your preference network? After your discussion, please fill out this google form.

20: NOV 9.


  • Workshop for Position Paper #1: What We Owe Strangers
  • Today's class has no reading assignment.

PP1 Stage 1: "What We Owe Strangers" Position Paper: 1000 words

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1000 word maximum answer to the following question by Thursday, TBD, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Topic: What do we owe strangers, as a matter of morality and justice? Consider both strangers in your own country and strangers outside your country. Draw on your previous thinking about personal "justified partiality" as well as your understanding of culturally evolved values to develop your view. Think also about the kinds of "goods" (economic, in-kind, human rights) we are or are not obligated to offer strangers, depending perhaps on whether they are in your community, nation, or world. Finally, try to use the theories of justice and other concepts and principles we have developed to formulate an answer to the question, "What do we owe strangers?" Your answer should provide a well-organized and clear rationales (Logic) reflecting your assessment of relevant course materials (Content) or other resources. It should show awareness of and engagement with some of the diversity of viewpoint on this question.
  • Keep in mind:
  • You are answering this prompt in the "first person plural" - we. This is not just a statement of personally felt obligation, but your view about what we should all accept as our collective obligation.
  • Your readers (at least 5) will not necessarily share your view, so you should say why your position should be acceptable to someone with a different point of view.
  • Advice about collaboration: 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. 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. It's a great way to make sure that a high average level of learning and development occurs. 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:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File" and "Inspect Documents" to make sure your name does not appear as author.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "ObligationStrangers".
  5. Log in to courses.alfino.org. Upload your file to the PP1: What We Owe Strangers dropbox.
  • 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 Insight areas of the rubric for this assignment. Complete your evaluations and scoring by TBD, 2020, 11:59pm.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. The papers will be in our shared folder, but please do not edit or add comments to the papers directly. This will compromise your anonymity.
  • To determine the papers you need to peer review, I will send you a key with animal names in alphabetical order, along with saint names. You will find the line with your saint name / animal name pair, and review the next four (4) animals' work below that line.
  • 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 ahead and review the next animal in the list until you have four reviews. This assures that you will get enough "back evaluations" of your work to get a good average for your peer review credit. You will receive an additional 10 points for completing your peer reviews.
  • Stage 3: I will grade and briefly comment on your writing using the peer scores as an initial ranking. Up to 28 points.
  • 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. Up to 10 points, in Q&W.
  • Back evaluations are due TBD, 11:59pm.

The "other side" of Justified Partiality: What We Owe Strangers

  • Unpacking the prompt:
  • The "goods" -- that typically occupy discussions of Justice or Beneficence.
  • Economic justice -- Are there economic outcomes in a society or in the world that would be fundamentally unfair or unjust? Should we think of Rawls "veil of ignorance" on a global level?
  • Aid -- Some argue that valuing human dignity obligates us to provide direct aid in some circumstances, such as disaster relief. Others go further, and argue that we are obligated to help the "bottom billion" to develop productive economies. Are these just good things to do and not obligatory or are they collective obligations?
  • Promotion of rights and anti-discrimination -- Typically, people who feel that "rights promotion" is an international obligation of justice advocate for their government to use foreign policy to promote rights. Others might argue that that could involve interfering with another culture or countries' sovereignty. Does your position obligate you to promote rights and and anti-discrimination in your society and/or globally?
  • "Strangers in your own community, nation, world" -- You may have different principles or degrees of obligation for different types of strangers. For example, you may not believe obligations to promote justice go beyond borders, but you might still believe that personal or collective beneficence is a good thing. Or, you may address all of these groups with the same theory of obligation.
  • "Draw on your previous thinking about justified personal paritiality" -- For some of you, this earlier work may set a "baseline" for thinking about obligations to strangers. Consider the positions we outlined during last class: Tribalism, Post-tribal Urbanism, Utilitarian Globalism, Extreme Altruism. You may want to use versions of these in your position.
  • "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 prosociality, 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. If you endorse these aspects of WEIRD culture, you may draw on them in thinking about your obligations to strangers. "Post-tribal Urbanism" is an example of this. We have also studied two theories (Haidt and Hibbing) that help us think about standing challenges we face as a social species. These are all resources you may select from and make use of depending upon your concerns.
  • Draw on "theories of justice and other concepts" --
  • Motivational resources: self-interest and altruism.
  • Theoretical resources:
  • Rawls' Theory of Justice -- which addresses both rights and economic justice.
  • Duty to an ideal. This could be a Kantian ideal of supporting reason and autonomy in others, or it could be a more traditional ideal about human dignity and the importance of supporting human life. You may certainly draw on values from your faith commitments and life experience, but try to explicate them in ways that might be attractive to those who do not share your particular faith.
  • Virtue Ethics -- Promoting human virtues may require specific sorts of aid or support.
  • 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).
  • Libertarianism -- A good starting point if you feel very minimal "collective" obligations (such as through taxation), but don't forget that Liberatarians answer questions of personal charity and beneficence just like everyone else.

21: NOV 11. 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" listen to at least 1/2 of the podcast for today and the other half for Thursday.

Hidden Brain, Empathy

  • Segment 1: Artist's performance art installation. 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
  • 2. cognitive empathy
  • 3. empathy concern and compassion. 13:00
  • 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. Alot since 2000.
  • Other variables: living alone. hard to know about link there. pretty speculative. We are more urban, solitary, and transactional. 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 negative empathy ways -- no faces (!), avatars, text. 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
  • We'll stop here for today's class. The rest on Thursday.
  • 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 911 attacks increases willingness to torture. Other research: more wary of outsiders.
  • But 911 was also unifying, eliciting empathy.
  • Paul Bloom, Against Empathy - tribal empathy is bad, but Zaki -- oxcitociin studies do turn up parochialism. Zaki draws different conclusion. Believes that empathy is trainable.
  • Sometimes we need to be less empathetic. Research on police officers showing strong empathy even to officers in trouble. 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. What if we are over empathic to our group?
  • Professionals who need to use empathy (caring professions) might suffer from its expression. Defensive dehumanization -- blocking empathy for self-preservation. Study table in busy student union, happy child/ suffering child. unmanned/wheelchair. But it backfired! Maybe we (especially high empaths) avoid triggering our own empathetic response. Study on whites reading about native Americans. Led to negative judgement to dismiss guilt (cog. dissonance). In obedience to authority studies, death row officers, more likely to lead avoidance or dehumanizing judgements. ends at 36:00
  • Back to art installation. Lamp destroyed by aggressive person. Person 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.
  • Project using virtual reality 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.
  • Acting and empathy. Might pump empathy. Reading fiction. (Moth stories, story core, human interest stories on news.)
  • Manchester U fans study: Levine: study involving rabid fans, Write about why they love Man U. Taken to another building, 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!
  • 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.

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 mouse 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 -- 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.
  • Some neurobiology: the ACC - anterior cingulate cortex - processes interoceptive info, conflict monitoring, (presumably cog. dissonance). susceptible to placebo effect. Importantly, ACC activates on social exclusion (Cyberball game), anxiety, disgust, embarrassment, but also pleasure, mutual pleasure.
  • 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, separately from helping action.
  • Cognitive side of things: How do we bring judgements about desert and character to bear on empathic responses?
  • 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. the wealthy take more candy!
  • especially hard, cognitively, to empathize with people we don't like, because their pain actually stimulates a dopamine response!

22: NOV 16


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

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.
  • 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.
  • [We might pause on this to appreciate the basis of Sapolsky's skepticism given the overall view of human morality we've developed in the course.]
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • [Interesting implications for society with high stress, lots of social exclusion... Another implication: You have to be in a "good place" for empathy to lead to compassion. Makes evo sense. Reinforces "empathy gym" concept - maybe some people don't learn how to do this. ]
  • 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.)
  • 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 [Note: this is a good object lesson for the course.]
  • mention of Henrich on "moralizing gods" [but then, you knew that already]
  • Feeling good about being charitable might be a family transmissable trait.
  • Returning to that Science study, important to note that the positive effect from altruism only occurred when observer was present! Suggests that the pleasure is tied to social perception.
  • 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. [Guess who gets the most pleasure from that? Relatively more altruistic/less self-interested people.]
  • 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 you workouts at empathy gym!

Small Group Exercise

  • Briefly assess the research we have been reviewing on empathy this week. Where there some surprising things?
  • Then discuss some of the following questions:
  • Are you persuaded that empathy is trainable? Where is the empathy gym anyway?
  • Are you persuaded that we have biological capacities for empathy without necessarily a universal motivation toward compassion?
  • After this reading are you more or less concerned about ways that empathy can be problematic (pathological or blocking action)?
  • After this reading are you more or less likely to want to cultivate empathy? (Please take polls of your breakout groups.)

Paper discussion on PP1: What Do We Owe Strangers?

  • The prompt, for convenience:
  • What do we owe strangers, as a matter of morality and justice? Consider both strangers in your own country and strangers outside your country. Draw on your previous thinking about personal "justified partiality" as well as your understanding of culturally evolved values to develop your view. Think also about the kinds of "goods" (economic, in-kind, human rights) we are or are not obligated to offer strangers, depending perhaps on whether they are in your community, nation, or world. Finally, try to use the theories of justice and other concepts and principles we have developed to formulate an answer to the question, "What do we owe strangers?" Your answer should provide a well-organized and clear rationales (Logic) reflecting your assessment of relevant course materials (Content) or other resources. It should show awareness of and engagement with some of the diversity of viewpoint on this question.
  • Advice:
  • Get right to work.
  • Make sure you are answering "what" and "why" questions. What is your position (overall and in details)? Why do you hold it?
  • It is a good thing to prioritize your obligations by some kind of principle, value, or other consideration. But avoid this equivocation: "It is reasonable to put my community/nation first. Until we solve the problems in my community/nation, we should not be obligated to help global strangers." "First" can mean "priority" or "ordinally" (before the next thing you do).
  • Try to notice jumps in reasoning and "gaps" between principles or concepts and their application. Sometimes these occur when we make a hard problem "easier" by oversimplifying it.
  • Don't be reluctant or afraid acknowledge limits, uncertainties, or problems with your view.

23: NOV 18. Unit Six: Criminal Justice and Moral Responsibility Skepticism


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 and the brain?
  • 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"?
  • 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 deserve praise or blame for their actions. In the standard view, praise and blame are based on "moral desert".
  • Moral desert - Normally, you "morally deserve" something because you did (or failed to do) something to merit it, positively or negatively. (You worked a shift and deserve to be paid. You failed to observe the speed limit...)
  • 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...). Yet we clearly praise and blame people (and ourselves) for all of these things!
  • Accountability vs. Morally Responsibility -- 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. This might be an important distinction if you become a skeptic about moral responsibility. You don't lose accountability, necessarily.
  • 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 not mean there is no free will, or just that it might not be what we think it is?
  • A couple of interesting philosophical arguments to take into the thought experiment:
  • 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 experiments 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. Are you less deserving of your praise than people from these families, equally, more?

Small Group Discussion: Thought Experiment Gym 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?
  • 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.

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 appetite 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: 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 -- Can't be impulse control. porn at home, but not at work. He must have known that it was wrong. Tourette's can be circumstantially triggered even though it is clearly neurological. Poignant exchange with Janet about staying in the relationship. Kluwer-Bucy. Months before sentencing. Medication makes him normal, but eliminates his libido. 5 yrs. - home arrest. Judge ackn. prosecutor's point. You could have asked for help. (Reflect on this a bit.) 26 months federal prison 25 months of house arrest. 2008-2010.
  • 4 minute discussion questions: Do you agree with prosecutor's Vartan's point? Why or why not? What would your sentence have been?
  • Segment 2: Blame - person or brain.
  • Nita Frahany - neurolaw professor (law and philosophy!). Might be lots of cases. (argument: isn't this just like blame everything else for what you do wrong? Isn't it too easy?). Thought experiment: deaf person, child in burning building. "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. New technologies will show us how experience is written in our brain. (Back to Descartes. wrong.) Slippery slope, the brain is always involved. Blameworthiness might be the wrong question. Person vs. biology doesn't really make sense anymore. The "choosey" part of the brain (the homonculus!). 36:00 minutes. Funny exchange. Self-modification comes up.
  • Claim: Legal system should drop moral blame. Adopt utilitarian approach. Predict recidivism. Point system exists. Better than people (50% accurate). System 70%. Currently there is appearance bias for example.
  • A point system might be very predictive, but you might not want to convict someone of a future crime. Would it be?
  • Frahany - Blame might serve social function of articulating norms.
  • 4 minute discussion questions: Frahany thinks there are lots of cases of the criminal justice system punishing unfairly. Are you persuaded? If so, does a utilitarian approach (with or without the point system) make sense?
  • Segment 3: Dear Hector
  • Bianca Giaver (producer) - Hector Black. Hector's backstory - joins civil rights movement, adopts Patricia, a neglected child. Patricia's story (becomes a beautiful and productive person) -- Patricia is murdered. Hector considers whether he wishes the death penalty for him. Hector's statement -- 48min. Writes a letter of forgiveness to the murderer. Ivan's story - son of schizophrenic mom, beat him, horror. Do we still blame Ivan the same way. Hector tells his story. Many letters exchanged. A strange bond. Hector has self-doubts - sending care packages to Ivan???. (Maybe he's just a weird guy.)
  • Ivan tells the original story of Patricia's murder. Ivan hears a voice that sometime comes to him. Commits the murder. Can't make sense of it.
  • 4 minute discussion questions: Does Ivan's story change your view of the kind of threat he poses -- one from choosing evil/failing a responsiblity vs. compulsion?

24: NOV 23


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613) (Part One 580-600)

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”.
  • Radical claim: Current criminal justice system needs to be replaced. (Not talking about policing, right?)
  • Things outside his focus: science in courtroom, min IQ for death sentence, cognitive bias in jurors, cognitive privacy.
  • 583: historic example of scientific evidence disrupting criteria for guilt in witches trials, mid-16th century. Older women might not be able to cry.
  • Three Perspectives
  • no one now disputes that we sometimes are not free (epilepsy example). Yet medieval europe tried animals for guilt. (Sounds weirder than it is. Just imagine it's about the act, not criminal intent.)
  • Drawing Lines in the Sand 586
  • endorses a broad compatibilism and the idea of “moral failure”. He develops the competing concept, from Greene, “mitigated free will,” but ultimately, 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. We sneak in a kind of "libertarian dualism" He's following the second strategy above.
  • 1842: M’Naghten. Rule at 587. Mentally ill murderer. Many objected to his not being found guilty. John Hinckley.
  • "mitigated free will" homonculus view: we all more or less think this way and then the problem of responsibility comes down to figuring out what to expect from the humunculus. 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 Indidividuals
  • 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).
  • ”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.
  • 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.
  • Causation and 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." “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. ("free won't")
  • 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.
  • some evidence that pedophilia is not freely chosen or easily resisted.
  • chart showing how we divide things between biology and “homoncular grit”. — Long list of ways out biology influence the items on the right.
  • Conclusions: “worked hard/must be smart” are equally grounded in our physical nature.
  • We'll break here for today
  • 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 “homonculus” 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 judements 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.

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). 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?

Two Strategies for grounding Moral Responsibility (MR)

  • Two ways to ground MR:
  • 1. Traditional Metaphysical Philosophical Discussion about Determinism and Free Will
  • Examples of argument threads: If we do not have "metaphysically real" FW, then we cannot be held responsible. If the world is deterministic, then we do not have FW and cannot be MR. Because we are MR, we must have FW.
  • 2. Contemporary Naturalist (Cultural Evolutionist) Approaches to MR and FW regard these are cultural ideas which express both our "agency" (ability to act in the world) and expectations of each other as "normally competent agents."
  • To understand the Traditional Metaphysical approach, you need some terminology:
  • Hard Determinism - The view that determinism is true and that renders traditional concepts of free will meaningless. Hard to justify retributive punishment. Basic intuition: If everything is determined, we can't make choices. Biggest liability: Sets the bar for free will very high.
  • Compatibilism - Compatibilists also believe that determinism is true, but they believe that free will is compatible with determinism. Basic intuition: Free will is a way of describing our sense of agency. People do this in different ways in different cultures. Agency is real, free will is one way of understanding it. Basic Intuition: Free will is part of our "folk psychology" and does really practical work for us in culture. Biggest liability: Is this a "free will worth having"? It seems thin to some to call free will a cultural artefact. But then Love, Faith, Cooperation, Trust, Friendship are real?
  • Many people find it hard to be compatibilists since it involves accepting that ever state of the universe is determined. (Point to resources for thinking through this. Dennett, Freedom Evolves.) "I'm determined to improve the future!" Free will means having more real possibilities in your life. Maybe people who fail their responsibilities are like "broken things". (Could be a problem of mixing mental modules.)
  • Libertarianism - The view that under some circumstances we are the original cause of our actions. Basic intuition: If you think our intuitions about free will are also part of the structure of the world, then the libertarian has a plausible approach. Biggest liability: Hard to find evidence for this view.
  • Relating this to Sapolsky's terminology: Sapolsky is critical of the folk psychological view he calls "mitigated free will". This is the view that we have complete FW, but sometimes it is compromised (compulsion, Kuwer Bucy Syndrome, addiction). Such views often sneak in a mysterious "homonculus" to which we refer some part of our will that we somehow don't think is biological. Hence, the derisive term "homoncular grit". (We'll follow his argument below.)
  • Is Free Will a culturally defined concept for understanding our agency?
  • Free will as a cultural concept. Evidence from Henrich and others. Part of a cultural package that weakened kin bonds that might not have been seen as "choosable". Promotes idea of choosing a creed or code of conduct. Question then is: Does this conception of free will still serve us well, especially in light of new knowledge about human (mis)behavior?
  • Ordinary language analysis -- We know what we mean by free will, whether it exists in libertarian form or not! Maybe it's a cultural artefact. Maybe we use mental modules related to Theory of Mind and governing "animate" objects.
  • To warm up your intuitions that FW is a cultural concept, consider how adept we are in understanding these sentences: "ordinary language analysis"
  • 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...)

25: NOV 30


  • 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 Ways of Thinking about Just Punishment

  • Some options for 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.
  • Utilitarian models of punishment: General principle: Reducing 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.)
  • Distinguishing retributive punishment from penalties. Punishment is about pain. Penalties (like speeding and parking tickets) might also hurt, but they can be justified on utilitarian grounds (fewer accidents, etc.).
  • Grounding punishment in the consent of the punished. "Thanks! I needed that!"
  • Try the "veil of ignorance" approach to finding just principles of punishment. (mention law review article)
  • We will be looking at how these models of punishment correlate with different political economies in Cavadino reading next time.

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

  • See notes for part two above.

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:
  • free will: encouraged follower to believe they could comply with moral code by acts of choice and will.
  • moral universalism:
  • 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.
  • 2. Free will has its origins in psychological adaptations that allow us to live in large societies. But the concept seems to be at an extreme when it leads us to blame without desert.
  • 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 FW is cultural why do we care about it's metaphysical grounding? It's grounded in evolved human social behaviors (culture).
  • 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.

26: DEC 2


  • Cavadino, Michael and James Dignan. "Penal policy and political economy". (17)

Small Group Discussion on 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. Here are three choices you might make. Does one sound better (and maybe objectively more rational?) 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".
  • C. Contractors would choose a "dual system" allowing for choice between A and B.
  • Try answering with just two options: A and B.
  • 2. Faculty sometimes talk about how "punitive" the grading systems in our courses need to be. This can pit "grade inflators" 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 (grade inflators) 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. Grade inflators 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?

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

  • Crime rates by country [21]
  • Homicide rates by country [22]
  • Some data on the board about income tax rates and taxation as % of GDP.
  • Two claims:
  • Diffs in penality likely to continue in spite of globalization
  • One reason for this is that penality tracks political economy. (Sort of like cons/liberal trait in other areas.)
  • 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.
  • 441: Table: Typology of political economies and their penal tendencies.
  • Neo-liberal (Example: Us
  • Conservative corporatism (Example: Germany in 2008 recession reinvests in industrial modernization and worker skills.)
  • Social democratic corporatism (more egalitarian and secular)
  • Oriental corporatism (detail from Nick's taxes)
  • Let's review some of the connections the authors make in their discussion. (bring in crime rates)
  • 447: Table: Political economy and imprisonment rates.
  • Is neo-liberalism "criminogenic"?
  • Possibly: Evidence that unequal societies with weak community relationships suffer from worse rates of crime. 447. [Note how this might support a public health / social justice model for (instead of) punishment.]
  • Interesting: Weak link bt crime rates and imprisonment rates.
  • Some possible mechanisms: Neo-liberal societies have high social exclusion: labor market and CJ failures. 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. (Think back to "Are you alright?" MRFW News!). "Welfare" can involve locking people up or giving them money.
  • Beckett and Western (2001) and others claim that high welfare spending correlates with low incarceration (except Japan). Also, economic inequality predicts high incarceration rates.

27: DEC 7


  • No readings today. I will give you some lecture material on Dennett's view of Freedom

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

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1000 word maximum answer to the prompt by TBD, 2021, 11:59.
  • Topic: In this unit, we have explored different ways to think about free will, moral responsibility and punishment. We've looked at arguments (from philosophy and the law) for "moral responsibility skepticism," critiques of our ordinary ideas about free will, and the justification of our culture's approach to punishment. Select and respond to some of these challenges as you provide your own view, with supporting reasons, of free will and responsibility and how we should approach crime and punishment.
  • Advice about collaboration: For this assignment, we need to modify our collaboration advice. You will have access to all of the rough drafts (with all new animal pseudonyms) and you will have read and commented on four of them before finishing your own. You are welcome to cite any ideas from any of the papers. If you borrow ideas from another author, give credit to the author by citing the animal name in your text. This again is what we do in an academic research community (only we don't use animal names).
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File" and "Options" to make sure your name does not appear as author.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "MoralResponsibility".
  5. Log in to courses.alfino.org. Upload your file to the "'Position Paper 2' dropbox.
  • Stage 2: Rough Draft Review. Please review four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. We will use our regular assignment rubric, but rather than producing a score for the paper I will ask you to evaluate three specific items in the prompt as you find them in the rough drafts you review. Complete your evaluations by TBD, 2021, 11:59pm.
  • Use this Google Form to review three peer papers.
  • 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 ahead and review the next animal in the list until you have four reviews. You will receive 10 points for completing 4 rough draft reviews.
  • Your final paper is due on TBD, 2021, by 11:59pm. Please upload it to the "Position Paper 2" dropbox, the same as for the rough draft.

Dennett's Naturalist view in Freedom Evolves

  • Our folk psychological idea of Free will. The homunculus or soul or real self is somehow independent of influences. In philosophy, this is "Libertarian Free Will". Not well supported.
  • Examples of decision making for us to pay attention to: Make a decision in response to the following prompts. 1, 2. Did the decisions feel free? Did you feel absolutely free of influences or did you feel like you
  • Rethinking your concept of free will doesn't require you to deny anything about your "agency" - Your actual capabilities for decision making, reasoning, understanding the world, etc. In fact, it helps to have evidence of this to challenge your folk psychology.
  • 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 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. (If this seems like a stretch, philosophers have been here before. Mind from matter? Surely, you jest!)
  • Digressive note: It doesn't really help to imagine an indeterministic world to solve the problem. There would be no prediction in a world without (causal) regularities. It would at least be a very annoying world, and not obviously "free."
  • 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.

28: DEC 9


  • Susan Blackmore, "Living Without Free Will"

Debriefing on PP1: What do we owe strangers?

  • Favorable distribution overall (high percentage of A/A-, high prompt attention), though I felt I had to anchor on B-.
  • Some patterns in the distribution.
  • There have been some instances of incongruous (negative) results between SW1-2 and PP1 (PP1 alot lower than SW2, for example). I am particularly interested in those cases so please come forward to discuss.
  • Focusing on PP2: FW, MR, and Punishment Postion Paper
  • Follow the template. Select from course resources (and other sources, if you wish) to develop your position. Note italicized part of the prompt. Doing this should guarantee a B or better.
  • Please read successful papers from PP1 and note writing, organization, and thesis clarity.

Blackmore - Living Without Free Will

  • Thesis: Free will is an unnecessary illusion that you might be better off getting over. SB grants that many find this an impossible view.
  • Cites Wegner (2002): research suggesting that the feeling of agency ("I did it!") might be "post-hoc" attribution.
  • Blackmore agrees with Dennett's analysis (but thinks his book should be called "Choice Evolves"), but thinks FW is an illusion.
  • She considers two possibilities: "Living 'as if'" and "Rejecting the Illusion" - favors the latter.
  • Living "as if"
  • Wegner quote: "virtual agency" is part of a useful mental accounting system. But virtual agency is an illusion created by our brains.
  • Patricia Churchland: It's a "user illusion" that you make an uninfluenced, self-conscious choice.
  • "Illusionism" can be defended. If you believe bad consequences follow from giving it up....
  • Criminal Justice system would be fairer without the illusion of FW. No retribution.
  • Stronger position: You can't get rid of the illusion even if you wanted to. "I'm determined to believe in FW."
  • "Rejecting the Illusion" -
  • 166: "sitting by the fire" example
  • William James - getting out of bed on cold morning. Analyze that feeling of "indecision".
  • Blackmore 167: going out on a cold night. "...not because "i" made the decision of my own free will. It is because this is the decision that the whole universe came up with for this person under those circumstances."
  • Thought experiment to her students: "But if I don't have free will why would I get up in the morning? Why would I do anything?" Go ahead try it!
  • Blackmore thinks of consciousness more as events than a place in your head where things "enter into conscious awareness". Likewise, maybe, with free will. [Possible criticism: Just because it would be mistaken to believe in the homunculus, it doesn't mean that there are no neural processes that imitate some of it's less exotic functions (like updating us by making this conscious to us - "Oh right, I have a paper to write.").
169: Some of the exercises she asks her students to do. "Am I conscious now?" Sometimes primes them to be more conscious. (related to mindfulness).
  • Morality and Responsibility
  • You might think that you would have more regrets giving up FW, but no.
  • Wegner: knowing its an illusion gives him a sense of peace. quote 171.
  • Conversation with her Dad. Maybe FW (or belief in it) makes us "want to be good" (recall Henrich)
  • SB's point: All of your motivations to be good (self-interest, reputation, altruism) will still be there after you give up FW.
  • Paying Attention
  • In meditation, a great deal of "quieting the mind" is about getting the self to shut up so you can pay attention to the mind.

29: APR 29

Concluding Course Comments

  • Review of Major Ethics Course Questions
  • Core Ethics Course goals -- Let's make sure we fulfilled the learning goals for this Core class! (My glosses and additions in parentheses.)
  • After completing this course, students will be able to: 1. argue persuasively why [also, whether, the extent to which] each of us is responsible for having ethical concerns about and commitments to the good of others, 2. resolve moral problems consistently, drawing on resources (e.g., conceptions of human nature and of human community) of one of the ethical theories or traditions studied [just one?], and 3. respectfully advocate for their critically assessed moral commitments and perspectives within a diverse community.
  • Three Ideas
  • How different the problem of moral responsibility is on interpersonal vs. impersonal levels.
  • The challenges of a cultural evolutionary approach.
  • Passive vs. Active Approaches to Responsibility
  • Two reminders
  • Practice enlightened politics
  • Cultivate diverse relationships.
  • What is an active intellectual?