MAR 31

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20: MAR 31


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 7: "The Evolution of Moral Agency" Freedom Evolves. (300) (193-221) (28)

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 7: "The Evolution of Moral Agency" Freedom Evolves

  • Sober and Wilson quote.
  • Theme of the chapter: How nature supports the emergence of morality and moral agency. A further argument is needed to show that moral agency gives us a kind of freedom "worth having."
  • Benselfishness - "far sighted self-interest"
  • Sober and Wilson '03 book Unto Others - altruism can evolve.
  • Is altruism a "cul de sac" in evolutionary terms? Not if it can be established incrementally in a population as a stable strategy.
  • Back to Prisoner's Dilemma -- problem is to undermine defection as the best strategy. 198: In a sense evolution solved an analogue of this problem at the cellular level - competition between organism and parasite.
  • By modelling payoffs and costs of defection, you can build an artificial life toy version of the problem of altruism. You can then add in "choice" and "learning". Now you can detect freeloaders and even punish extreme altruists. (Mention evidence on prosocial punishment vs. altruistic punishment.)
  • Conclusion: The benselfish agent would prevail. "prudent disposition to cooperate plus shared disposition to punish" (Let's pause on this. Is game theoretic punishment retributivist?)
  • Being Good to Seem Good
  • Mencken quote.
  • 203: Note that he is lacking the cultural evo thesis about universalizing religions and city size.
  • Frank "commitment problems" when it's in our interest to limit future self-interest."
  • freeloaders set off an "arms race" for bluffing and bluff detection. "Part of becoming a responsibile agent is making oneself into a being that can be relied upon to be relatively impervious to such offers (to defect or freeload)." Zahavi's "costly signal" theory. (Think of examples. Church all week, transparency, showing concern, showing up early . . . ).
  • self-control problems - Ulysses and the Sirens - we often solve control problems by "self-binding" (a metaphor in the lit on self-control that connects with old Ulysses' problem).
  • Learning to Deal with Yourself (Discounting)
  • Recall the psychological adaptations in Henrich that relate to this: patience, discounting.
  • 209: We have evolved a psychology with hyperbolic discounting, which does not serve our long term interests (and makes it harder to have long term interests).
  • "willpower" reimagined (using the Anslie source) as a competition in our heads of reward seeking possibilities. Like Ulysses, we have to take a different attitude toward our future selves to make sense of the competition. (Think about how you manage this conflict in your own life. Willpower, but also habit.
  • Our costly merit badges
  • Thesis: Being good is an effective way of solving a control problem. Recall the Luther example. "Making yourself so that one could not have done otherwise" is an innovation. Reputation (our merit badges) help with this.
  • The fear that determinism robs us of possibility (which he addressed theoretically early in the book) almost gets it backwards: "We can only be free in a morally relevant sense, if, in fact, we learn how to render ourselves insensitive to many opportunities that come our way."

SW2: Assessing Dennett

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1000 word maximum answer to the following question by Wednesday, April 12, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: Critically evaluate Dennett's argument in Freedom Evolves. Specifically, consider whether he has convinced you of two major claims: 1. Determinism is compatible with the way we think (or should think) about possibility, causation, and at least some features of freedom, such as "evitability" (early chapters); and, 2. Freedom evolved in us along with (in the form of?) moral agency, which helps solve problems of cooperation and expand our "degrees of freedom" (later chapters).
  • 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 readings, 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 Document" to make sure your name does not appear as author. You may want to change this to "anon" for this document.
  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 "DennettEvaluation".
  5. Log in to 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 all four areas of the rubric for this assignment. We will tie specific elements of the prompt to the content assessment, so be sure to consider that in composing your answer! Complete your evaluations and scoring by Wednesday, April 19, 2021 11:59pm.
  • Use this Google Form to evaluate four peer papers. The papers will be on the Sharepoint site under Student Writing.
  • 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, look to the right for your animal name, and review the next four (4) animals' work in the list, going to the top of the list if necessary.
  • 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 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 also 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.
  • 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: [1]. Fill out the form for each reviewer, but not Alfino. You will receive 5 points for doing your back evaluations and up to 5 points, from the back evaluation score (averaged and divided by 2).
  • Back evaluations are due TBD, 11:59pm.