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Philosophers were given the following descriptions of two experiments from Nichols and Knobe's "Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions". The first was as follows:


Original survey question

Part 1

Suppose subjects are presented with descriptions of two different "universes", A and B:


Imagine a universe (Universe A) in which everything that happens is completely caused by whatever happened before it. This is true from the very beginning of the universe, so what happened in the beginning of the universe caused what happened next, and so on right up until the present. For example one day John decided to have French Fries at lunch. Like everything else, this decision was caused by what happened before it. So, if everything in this universe was exactly the same up until John made his decision, then it had to happen that John would decide to have French Fries.

Now imagine a universe (Universe B) in which almost everything that happens is completely caused by whatever happened before it. The one exception is human decision making. For example, one day Mary decided to have French Fries at lunch. Since a person’s decision in this universe is not completely caused by what happened before it, even if everything in the universe was exactly the same up until Mary made her decision, it did not have to happen that Mary would decide to have French Fries. She could have decided to have something different.

The key difference, then, is that in Universe A every decision is completely caused by what happened before the decision-given the past, each decision has to happen the way that it does. By contrast, in Universe B, decisions are not completely caused by the past, and each human decision does not have to happen the way that it does.


Roughly half of the subjects are presented with the question:


1. In Universe A, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for their actions?


The philosophers in our study were then asked to respond to the following question:


Subjects would answer 'yes' to question 1:

 

 

Results

Part 1


(Note: all numbers and percentages report the number of respondents who did not select the 'Unable to provide an unbiased answer' response.)


In the first part of the study ("study 1"), respondents were given no further information about the subjects of the original study. A total of 163 philosophers responded in study 1 (while 31 indicated that they could not provide unbiased responses). The 163 responses were distributed as follows (as before, the answer which predicts the results of the original study is in bold):


total responses from study 1

% responses from study 1

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

15

9.2%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

22

13.5%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

126

77.3%


In the second part of the study ("study 2"), respondents were given the above question, and told to suppose that the original study involved 50 American undergraduate university students. A total of 87 philosophers responded in study 2 (while 12 indicated that they could not provide unbiased answers). The 87 responses were distributed as follows:


total responses from study 2

% responses from study 2

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

7

8.0%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

8

9.2%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

72

82.8%


In all, a total of 250 philosophers answered this question:


total responses from combined study

% responses from combined study

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

22

8.8%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

30

12.0%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

198

79.2%

 

 

Comparison with original results

Part 1


Nichols and Knobe describe the results of the original study:


In this condition [i.e., of those asked question 1], most subjects (86%) gave the incompatibilist response!


 

We then asked our respondents about a second part of the Nichols and Knobe study from the same paper:


Original survey question

Part 2

Suppose subjects (note: not those who participated in Experiment A) are presented with the following case:


The other subjects are not asked 1, but are instead presented with the following case:

In Universe A, a man named Bill has become attracted to his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to kill his wife and 3 children. He knows that it is impossible to escape from his house in the event of a fire. Before he leaves on a business trip, he sets up a device in his basement that burns down the house and kills his family.


These subjects are then asked the following question:


2. Is Bill fully morally responsible for killing his wife and children?


The philosophers in our study were then asked to respond to the following question:


Subjects would answer 'yes' (that Bill is morally responsible) to question 2

 

 

Results

Part 2


In study 1, where respondents were given no further information about the subjects of the original study, a total of 160 philosophers responded (while 31 indicated that they could not provide unbiased responses). The 160 responses were distributed as follows (as before, the answer which predicts the results of the original study is in bold):


total responses from study 1

% responses from study 1

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

133

83.1%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

19

11.9%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

8

5.0%


In study 2, where respondents were told to suppose that the origial study involved 50 American undergraduate university students, a total of 85 philosophers responded (while 14 indicated that they could not provide unbiased answers). The 85 responses were distributed as follows:


total responses from study 2

% responses from study 2

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

69

81.2%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

9

10.6%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

7

8.2%


In all, a total of 245 philosophers answered this question:


total responses from combined study

% responses from combined study

significantly more often than they would answer 'no'.

202

82.4%

not significantly more or less often than they would answer 'no'.

28

11.4%

significantly less often than they would answer 'no'.

15

6.1%

 

 

Comparison with original results

Part 2


Nichols and Knobe describe the results of the original study:


In this condition [i.e., of those asked question 1], most subjects (72%) gave the compatibilist response that the agent was fully morally responsible.


 

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