Forget the Folk: Moral Responsibility Preservation Motives and Other Conditions for Compatibilism
AuthorClark, CJ; Winegard, BM; Baumeister, RF
Source TitleFrontiers in Psychology
PublisherFRONTIERS MEDIA SA
University of Melbourne Author/sBaumeister, Roy
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsClark, C. J., Winegard, B. M. & Baumeister, R. F. (2019). Forget the Folk: Moral Responsibility Preservation Motives and Other Conditions for Compatibilism. FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY, 10 (FEB), https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00215.
Access StatusOpen Access
For years, experimental philosophers have attempted to discern whether laypeople find free will compatible with a scientifically deterministic understanding of the universe, yet no consensus has emerged. The present work provides one potential explanation for these discrepant findings: People are strongly motivated to preserve free will and moral responsibility, and thus do not have stable, logically rigorous notions of free will. Seven studies support this hypothesis by demonstrating that a variety of logically irrelevant (but motivationally relevant) features influence compatibilist judgments. In Study 1, participants who were asked to consider the possibility that our universe is deterministic were more compatibilist than those not asked to consider this possibility, suggesting that determinism poses a threat to moral responsibility, which increases compatibilist responding (thus reducing the threat). In Study 2, participants who considered concrete instances of moral behavior found compatibilist free will more sufficient for moral responsibility than participants who were asked about moral responsibility more generally. In Study 3a, the order in which participants read free will and determinism descriptions influenced their compatibilist judgments-and only when the descriptions had moral significance: Participants were more likely to report that determinism was compatible with free will than that free will was compatible with determinism. In Study 3b, participants who read the free will description first (the more compatibilist group) were particularly likely to confess that their beliefs in free will and moral responsibility and their disbelief in determinism influenced their conclusion. In Study 4, participants reduced their compatibilist beliefs after reading a passage that argued that moral responsibility could be preserved even in the absence of free will. Participants also reported that immaterial souls were compatible with scientific determinism, most strongly among immaterial soul believers (Study 5), and evaluated information about the capacities of primates in a biased manner favoring the existence of human free will (Study 6). These results suggest that people do not have one intuition about whether free will is compatible with determinism. Instead, people report that free will is compatible with determinism when desiring to uphold moral responsibility. Recommendations for future work are discussed.
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