14 October 2008

Schwitzgebel and Cushman's "moral sense test"

Eric Schwitzgebel (a philosopher at U.C. Riverside) and Fiery Cushman (a psychologist at Harvard) have designed a "Moral Sense Test" that asks respondents for their takes on various moral dilemmas. They're looking to compare the responses of philosophers and non-philosophers, so they've asked me to post a link to their test from this blog. They say that people who have taken other versions of this test have found it interesting to ponder the moral dilemmas they ask about. The test should take about 15-20 minutes and can be found here.

The test says "Please do not discuss the questions with anybody else, or consult any texts or outside material, while you are taking the test." I suspect that some of my readers will want to comment on the test, so if you intend to take the test, please don't read the comments to this post until after you've done so.


Anonymous said...

Felt a little dopey when I got to the fine questions. Wanted to go back and change my answer on the first one of those once I realized what was going on. But I guess that's part of the test, making people realize that certain fine structures are faulty.

Anonymous said...

I have answered $100000 to questions in which there was a death, and $1000 to those where there was no casualties.

While there is a lot of appeal to the notion that the fine should be only based on the deed and not on its consequences, I had to go with my feelings - which were that justice is better served if a person causing another person's death faces a much more severe penalty.

I was also a bit dissuaded by the absolute surety present in most of the questions. "Will" save, "will" kill, never "might". I tried to base my answers on this perfect certainty, but this probably caused my answers to drift further from what I would actually do in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

Jakub, how common do you think it is to have the belief that "the fine should only be based on the deed and not the consequences"?

I actively support a two-tiered system which punishes for both bad things and their consequences, but with the punishment for the former being less than that of the latter.

(A very hot -- as in contentious -- topic that sometimes comes up here is the situation of "attempted rape". Suppose a man attempts to rape a woman, but she ends up enjoying it... Is he guilty of a crime?)

Anonymous said...

I don't really know how common it is, but it does appeal to the rational mind -- when detached from all human feelings that death causes. After all, if the actions are no different, why does the punishment differ?

However, there is logic to the other side too. Let's say there is a known, fixed probability of killing an innocent person by performing an action, and let's say we have a fixed fine for killing a person unintentionally.

Performing the action has the hance of killing someone, and it makes sense to fine the amount for killing a person divided by the odds of that happenning -- he pays for the potential for death he caused. However, when the person actually dies, we fine the full amount because the potential is actually realized.

To answer your final question: I believe there is no absolute answer, and that the opinion of the woman is the most important here, and deciding whether it is a crime should be based on the state of her mind after the act. Did she feel raped, and did it cause damage to her psyche? However, crimes related to sex are I believe one of the hardest possible to properly adjudicate - simple, clear-cut laws fail very often to capture the actual situation.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, it may be my Catholic upbringing, but most definitely yes. Intent is paramount.

Anonymous said...

When I answered for the fines, I must admit that I chose $5000 (as 1/1000 of $5 million) for the actions not causing death, but only $50000 (only ten times as much) for the same actions when causing death. I'm sure that the premise that I caused the death is a factor, but I have a sense of jurisprudence that comes forth too: however much the guilty party "deserves" to be punished for, how can you possibly demand payment of a 5 million dollar fine from, e.g., a construction site worker? How does that help?

Also: I don't see the death of someone on life support as equivalent as involving the same moral stain as the death of a toddler, nor "morally grey" actions to save others as being as blameworthy as "morally grey" actions to merely increase one's own chance of survival. I find it frustrating not to know whether these are being evaluated as equivalent.

CarlBrannen said...

This reminds me of what I don't like about our culture in general, the insistence on the importance of money.

Adrienne said...

Stressful! Very hard for me to use any kind of consistency in my answers - hated catching myself in logic snafus when I would get to the next variation in a series of questions.