Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Free Will and Experimental Philosophy

Today's post is by Kiichi Inarimori, who is a PhD student at Hokkaido University, a JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) research fellow, and a new editor of this blog, Imperfect Cognitions. His main research area is the free will debate and experimental philosophy of free will. He is now working on a project which is related to folk intuition about free will. The aim of this project is to identify what intuition people actually have and why they express such intuition, in order to obtain clues for resolving the conflict between compatibilism and incompatibilism.

Kiichi Inarimori

In the free will debate, some argue that the free will necessary for moral responsibility is compatible with determinism, while others argue that it is incompatible. Theorists on both sides have often claimed that their position is intuitive. Meanwhile, since 2000’s, folk intuitions have been the subject of empirical inquiry. So far, some research supports the view that most people have compatibilist intuition (Nahmias et al., 2005; 2006), while others support the view that most people have incompatibilist intuition (Nichols and Knobe, 2007).

There are some interpretations of these results, which explain either of the incompatibilist/compatibilist intuitions as due to some error. For example, Nichols and Knobe argue that most compatibilist intuition is due to performance error caused by emotional response. Some theorists also argue that much of either incompatibilist/compatibilist intuition is caused by comprehension errors. I am currently working on two projects related to these two types of error theory.

The first project is to propose a new interpretation of folk intuition, according to which different intuitions we exhibit are explained not by performance error, but by a kind of framing effect. Some studies show that different framing/representation of a same act (e.g., action/inaction) leads to different causal attribution and this leads to different moral judgment of the same act (cf. Cushman and Young, 2011). 

My hypothesis is that, in the same way, different free will/moral responsibility attribution in each scenario may be mediated by causal attribution due to the different framings/representations of deterministic action, and therefore the process in which different intuition is produced can be understood as free of performance errors. I am currently designing an experiment to test this hypothesis.

The second project is related to comprehension errors. A recent study by Nadelhoffer et al. (2021) has shown that almost all participants in experimental philosophy of free will misunderstand determinism in some way.  If so, empirical studies about folk intuitions are unreliable. In this regard I envisage two possibilities and am designing two studies. 

One is to improve comprehension by using a video which describes a deterministic universe. The other study is to check the validity of the bypassing/intrusion statements used to check comprehension. Agreement with those statements may not reflect a conceptual misunderstanding of determinism. Rather, agreement with the statement may be due to cognitive bias.

I hope that this research will show that both compatibilist/incompatibilist intuition is not explained away by performance/comprehension errors. This would allow us to argue that both compatibilism and incompatibilism are intuitively justified.

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