Mar. 16th M.E.R.G. Mini-Conference
NYU Philosophy, Room 101 (map)
Yale University, Philosophy
Title: Impure Modals
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to present an explanation for the impact of normative considerations on people’s assessment of certain seemingly purely descriptive matters. The explanation is based on two main claims. First, a large category of expressions are tacitly modal: they are contextually equivalent to modal proxies. Second, natural language modals can have impure flavors, being evaluated against conversational backgrounds shaped by heterogeneous considerations, including normative ones. This impurity in the conversational backgrounds can be modeled using a pair of principles which jointly make certain possibilities relevant at the expense of others.
New York University, Center for Bioethics and Department of Philosophy
Title: The Doctrine of Double Effect and Experimental Philosophy
Abstract: It might be thought that Knobe’s Chairman Study calls into question the validity of the intuitively plausible Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE). The reason is that the DDE presupposes that one determines whether a person’s act is morally permissible by first determining what the person intends. But if a key explanation of Knobe's Chairman Study is correct, it seems that subjects first judge whether an act is morally good or bad, and then decide whether an agent has acted intentionally or not. In this paper, I shall defend the DDE against this challenge. I shall also suggest that interestingly, this discussion of the DDE reveals a new way of explaining Knobe’s data.
Brown University, Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Title: Two Functions of Morality
Abstract: Sometimes people cause harm accidentally; other times they attempt to cause harm, but fail. How do ordinary people treat cases where intentions and outcomes are mismatched? While people's judgments of moral wrongness depend overwhelmingly on an assessment of intent, their judgments of deserved punishment exhibit substantial reliance on accidental outcomes as well. This pattern of behavior is present at an early age and consistent across both survey-based and behavioral economic paradigms. This raises a question about the function of our moral psychology: why do we judge moral wrongness and deserved punishment by different standards? Models of the evolution of social behavior emphasize a reciprocal relationship between punishment and prosociality. Punishment is worthwhile if it enforces prosociality; prosociality is worthwhile when enforced by punishment. This poses two functional challenges for an individual: determining what behaviors to punish in others, and determining which behaviors to perform oneself. I present evidence that these distinct functional demands cause us to punish accidents, while not regarding them as wrongful.
University of Arizona, Philosophy
Title: Selfless Giving
Abstract: In this paper, we explore whether people's charitable behavior is a function of how they think about the persistence of self. Our hypothesis is that the more an individual anticipates changing as a person, the more she will choose to give to others in the future. To test this, we measure and manipulate belief in the persistence of the defining psychological features of a person (e.g., one’s beliefs, values, and life goals) and measure generosity. We find support for the hypothesis in two studies using incentive-compatible charitable donation decisions and one involving hypothetical choices about sharing with loved ones.