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May 09, 2007

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I think that the claims about what the agents know, what they don't know, and what they have evidence for are more complicated than the way the story is told makes this seem and this might be relevant to our judgements about cases. My thought is that the feeling of compassion is at least evidence for the claim that punching the guy in the face is wrong. If so, in the one case Jo Jo would be ignoring evidence that punching is wrong if he goes on to punch, even if you want to say that he doesn't know that he wants to punch. So a simple theory (which I'm sure is too simple) is that someone is more culpable if one either does a wrong thing that one knows or should know is wrong, than when one does it without either knowing or being in a situation where s/he should know. Similarly if one knows or should know what is right then one is responsible for doing so.

I'll just mention (but not defend) that I'm of two minds about how to characterize what Jo Jo believes in the last case when he decides for compassionate reasons not to punch. I think a case can be made that he may have thoughts with opposing contents -- a thought with the content that punching is wrong and a different thought with the content that punching is not wrong. But I think the rest of what I wrote is independent of that.

Did people really think that someone is praiseworthy for not punching another person for sneezing? Even the person who knows that this is the thing to be done was admired for not hitting the sneezer? If so, we have evidence that some folk are strange. Not sure of the philosophical implications of this.

I am curious about what evidence the following conclusion is based on:

But this time, there was no difference in moral judgments. Subjects thought that JoJo was no less praiseworthy when he didn't know he was doing the right thing as when he did know.

In particular: (1) what questions were the subjects asked and (2) how do we get from their responses to the conclusion that they "thought that JoJo was *no less praiseworthy* when he didn't know he was doing it.

Were they given the two stories and then asked to judge whether their was a difference in praiseworthiness?

Jussi: The subjects were able to mark their reactions to JoJo's actions on a scale running from "very blameworthy" through to "neither blameworthy nor praiseworthy" all the way up to "very praiseworthy." Very few people (around 16%) thought the action was neither blameworthy nor praiseworthy in the "no punching" case (for both ignorance and non-ignorance). The overwhelming majority thought that not punching the peasant was praiseworthy. One wonders which sorts of folks are actually strange, then.

Mark: If you're right, it would seem that adding a line about JoJo feeling compassion and then ignoring it, in the original case, ought to eliminate the difference in assessments of blameworthiness. This is worth checking out, but my hunch is that it wouldn't lessen the difference all that much, and that there'd still be an asymmetry at work (speaking for my own intuitions). Moral knowledge in such a case seems to render the agent more blameworthy than does mere ignoring of evidence (if that's indeed what it is).

As a separate point, I should mention also that the reactions of blameworthiness to the first scenario directly contradict Wolf's own claims about "our" pretheoretic intuitions in the original JoJo case that he's not a responsible agent.

I think the results of this study show that people intuitively buy into a "natural human sentiments" account of morality. In the first case in the first pair, JoJo is so drastically brainwashed that he loses touch with his natural sympathy that would have told him that punching the sneezer is wrong, thus he is absolved of blame because he didn't know any better. But in the first case in the second pair, JoJo's reaction is evidence that, despite attempts to brainwash him and despite his inability to understand why he feels compassion or to accept its validity, the brainwashing has failed to the extent that his natural sentiments shine through and he responds in the sympathetically appropriate way. Thus even though the subjects are told that he believes that what he did was wrong, they also see that his actions are a response to valid moral motivations that he has without knowing that he has them.

So in the second pair of cases, one turns out to be a case where he knows what is right, but does not know that he knows, while the other is a case where he knows and knows that he knows. So he is assessed by subjects as equally praiseworthy. It is only in the first pair that it is true that in one case he knows what he does is wrong and in the other he does not. So there he is assessed differently.

In other words, there seems to be an asymmetry such that moral ignorance makes people think an agent is less blameworthy but does not make people think the agent is less praiseworthy....Is there some more general principle from which all of the intuitions we see here can be derived?
It comes from giving credit for distance travelled as well as the destination attained.

Another thought:

It would be interesting to run this with a more fleshed out description, such as the one of Robert Harris Gary Watson gives in "Reponsibility and the Limits of Evil". It is possible that the responses fail to accord with Wolf's prediction because the cases are anemically described; a more fleshed out, realistic description of the history that leads to mistreating others may be more effective in provoking different "judgments" of blameworthiness - ones we might privilege because they would be based on fuller information about the person in question.

I think you're right, Brad. (Although I ran Wolf's original JoJo case almost word-for-word.) That would make it much more difficult to pick out the feature(s) doing the heavy-lifting in our judgments (and of course perhaps it's a particular combination of features), and so it might be that focusing on these more simply drawn cases for now may allow us eventually to build up the complexity (and realism) of the cases while still managing to track the work being done by individual features.

As for your earlier questions:

(1) what questions were the subjects asked and (2) how do we get from their responses to the conclusion that they "thought that JoJo was *no less praiseworthy* when he didn't know he was doing it.

Each subject was asked only one question, after having read only one scenario (there were four): "mark an X at the spot representing the degree to which you think JoJo is blameworthy or praiseworthy for what he did with the peasant in this situation." As for the second question, I'm assuming that that wording was just a gloss on the conclusion that the average degree of praiseworthiness in the moral ignorance/positive action scenario was roughly equivalent (actually, it was a bit higher) than the average degree of praiseworthiness in the non-moral ignorance/positive action scenario.

David: If you're right, could there ever be cases of positive intentional (morally-charged) action where there's moral ignorance? If there weren't, that would be quite odd. Also, while one might not know that one knows X, where X is some bit of procedural knowledge, I have a hard time thinking that one might not know that one knows X, where X is some bit of propositional knowledge (as in the moral case). But I'm no epistemologist....

The previous message was obviously intended for David White -- while I do talk to myself, I try not to do it in public.

“As a separate point, I should mention also that the reactions of blameworthiness to the first scenario directly contradict Wolf's own claims about 'our' pretheoretic intuitions in the original JoJo case that he's not a responsible agent.”

I wonder where the judgment of the experiment subjects is directed. I find my intuitions track well with Shoemaker’s survey-respondents but I’m not convinced that this belies Wolf’s claim about the moral culpability of the original JoJo.

I find Jojo (who is ignorant, yet fails to hit) praiseworthy because (as I think was mentioned above) he is growing as a moral agent. Despite his immoral upbringing, JoJo is learning to be a moral agent nonetheless. I praise him for that growth as a moral agent and not his non-hitting per se. My praise for the morally knowledgeable JoJo (JoJo-mk) stems from his knowingly acting in a moral way. JoJo-mk seems praiseworthy to me for his act of non-hitting a stemming from his moral belief/knowledge, while JoJo seems praiseworthy for his act insofar as it is indicative of his moral growth.

If this is the case, Wolf’s analysis of the original JoJo as not being considered a moral agent still applies, since his moral growth in this new cases readmits him (to some degree) into the moral arena, so to speak. In having this moment of sympathy for others he is no longer completely morally ignorant, sense it is our sympathy/empathy for other agents that contributes in some way to our moral knowledge. Since his complete ignorance is now compromised, so then is his status of moral non-culpability.

David, you write,

Mark: If you're right, it would seem that adding a line about JoJo feeling compassion and then ignoring it, in the original case, ought to eliminate the difference in assessments of blameworthiness.

Yes, I thought something like that would be a relevant test. (And my apologies for the badly garbled sentence in my original message which you seem to have ignored well enough to figure out what I meant. I was trying to say "doesn't know that punching is wrong," not "doesn't know that he wants to punch." I guess my excuse is it was late and I was punchy.)

Chris: You may be right about the judgments in the praiseworthy case -- that in one instance we're recognizing that he's somehow grown as a moral agent, and in the other there's a different target of praise, namely, his knowingly doing the right thing for the right reasons -- but that doesn't yet help out Wolf, for in her original (and only) case, JoJo does the wrong thing without knowing any better. Whereas Wolf thinks our pretheoretic intuitions in that case are that JoJo's not responsible, that's not what the subjects in the survey said. (I've known this for years, though, because whenever I teach that article, students invariably assess JoJo as blameworthy, so it's hard to get Wolf's own addendum to the deep self view even motivated.)

Punchy, er, Mark: what are your intuitions with the added line about compassion, i.e., "As he's pulling back his fist, he feels compassion for the peasant, but then, just as daddy taught him, he ignores such 'base' feelings and punches the peasant, feeling no guilt in the process." Now perhaps you'd want to say this last bit makes him a somewhat incoherent agent. My own thought is that he's coherent enough (I imagine some Nazi guards at the death camps were compartmentalized like this), but my own intuitions are that he's still less blameworthy than his counterpart, the JoJo that has been fully exposed to alternative ways of dealing with peasants.

David,

about this:

"Jussi: The subjects were able to mark their reactions to JoJo's actions on a scale running from "very blameworthy" through to "neither blameworthy nor praiseworthy" all the way up to "very praiseworthy." Very few people (around 16%) thought the action was neither blameworthy nor praiseworthy in the "no punching" case (for both ignorance and non-ignorance). The overwhelming majority thought that not punching the peasant was praiseworthy. One wonders which sorts of folks are actually strange, then."

This just is the point. Go ask anyone directly whether it is praiseworthy not to hit someone who sneezes. I think I can reliably say from my arm-chair that not many people would say 'yes'. I've never been praised for not hitting a sneezer (I so wish I was - 'he's a great guy; he doesn't go around hitting people who sneeze...') and never in my life have I praised someone for that. Has any one of you? Are we so different from the folk who do this?

This suggests that there is something else in the story than the action per se that gets people to praise what JoJo did. What this is is not hard to find from the vignette you give. The vignette itself says that Jojo felt *compassion* for the sneezer. It is pretty plausible that people take compassion to be admirable and as something to be praised. My hypothesis then is that people report the action praiseworthy because denying this carries the pragmatic implicature that the character-trait which the action expressed is not praiseworthy either.

I guess the main point is that I am puzzled why if you wanted to study intuitions about attributions of praise you didn't take an action that most people think deserves praise.

Jussi: "Praiseworthy" doesn't mean "praised." I may find your non-punching of sneezers praiseworthy without ever actually praising you for it -- I'd hate for you to get a big head about it. Perhaps I've been remiss, though: I think you are a great guy, in part because you don't go around punching sneezers.

Seriously, though, what people are finding praiseworthy, I think, is that in the positive cases the JoJos are overcoming some bad moral training, one unknowingly and the other knowingly, to refrain from the violence most of us well-trained people never have to think about.

Indeed, the idea was to model the positive ignorance scenario on the Huck Finn case (while also keeping it as similar as possible in structure to the original JoJo case), in which Huck can't bring himself to turn Jim in, even though he believes what he's doing is wrong and feels guilty afterwards, given his own defective moral training. This case has been adopted by Nomy Arpaly, for one, to show that autonomy isn't necessary for moral responsibility, insofar as Huck is clearly praiseworthy but nonautonomous. The thought I had, then, was that there could well be an asymmetry between the praiseworthy case and the blameworthy case, such that autonomy (or the agent's identification with the source of his will in acting) might still be necessary for blameworthiness but not praiseworthiness. This would render Arpaly's objection to the autonomy-necessary-for-responsibility view moot with regard to most cases raised in this literature, which are on blameworthy actions.

Actually, I've just noticed a typo in Joshua's original post. He says this:

Just as one might expect, subjects thought that JoJo was more morally blameworthy when they were told that he suffered from moral ignorance than they were when they were told that he had the relevant moral knowledge.

This should actually read that subjects thought JoJo was less blameworthy when they were told that he suffered from moral ignorance than they were when told he had the relevant moral knowledge. But that should've become obvious later in the post.

David,

You want to know my intuitions. I actually have the intuition my toy theory predicts, (that it is worse that he feels the compassion but ignores it) but not as strongly as in the relevantly similar first case. But I also think that when the compassion is not strong enough to move him I tend to interpret the case as one in which it is not felt in the same way. And I think that might be epistemically relevant to the quality of the evidence provided by the compassion. (I'm sure you've noticed that there are a lot of background assumptions going into the thought that the compassion is evidence at all, but I tend to believe them, so it may be that I'm not a good test case.)

Mark: That's interesting. As you hint, you may not have any "pretheoretic" intuitions left. As always with experimental data like this, it's hard to say whether or not that makes you a good or a bad test case.

Shoemaker:

"David [White]: If you're right, could there ever be cases of positive intentional (morally-charged) action where there's moral ignorance?

I don't see why not. What I see people responding to in the case where JoJo believes he ought to punch but is overcome by compassion is much like the famous case of Huck Finn. He believes he ought to turn in Jim, the runaway slave and feels bad about what he thinks is a wrong he does to Miss Watson, but his compassion for Jim prevents him from doing it. Our assessment of Huck (mine, anyway), is that he is a good person for feeling the compassion and a good person for feeling guilty about acting contrary to his moral beliefs. But this seems to me clearly a case of someone who is morally ignorant yet motivated by the right sentiments.


Also, while one might not know that one knows X, where X is some bit of procedural knowledge, I have a hard time thinking that one might not know that one knows X, where X is some bit of propositional knowledge (as in the moral case).

Maybe the talk about knowing that ones knows was not the right way to put it. JoJo (or Huck) has a good moral character insofar as he is, at least occasionally, motivated by compassion. He does not know, however, that this is a moral motivation and so does not know that he actually does the right thing for the right reasons. But because we know it, we are able to judge his character positively for his response.

So he knows what the right thing to do is insofar as he knows what the compassionate thing to do is. But he does not know that it is the right thing to do. This makes it more like a case of procedural knowledge than propositional knowledge.

I'm not sure about this, but it seems to me that the dialectic between Dave (Shoe) and Jussi has taken us away from the main question. Both have suggested alternative explanations for why participants say that JoJo is praiseworthy in the "no punch" case: because JoJo has compassion (Jussi) and because JoJo has avoided brainwashing (Dave). But notice that the question given to the participants is simply: Was JoJo praiseworthy in omitting to punch?

The question's focus on the act means that the asymmetry that results holds no matter what deeper explanation of praiseworthiness the participants are picking up on.

For what it's worth, I think it would be great if we had two other tests. First, it would be great if we could isolate the different deeper explanations and see what kinds of reactions those get. Second, I think Jussi's comments have pointed out that "praiseworthy" is somewhat ambiguous, sometimes applying to dutiful actions, sometimes applying to dutiful actions done under counter-dutiful conditions (JoJo's upbringing), and sometimes applying to supererogatory actions. A study in which participants were given the "punch" case and then given all three kinds of non-wrong actions -- put in different orders for different subjects -- might tell us more about how they are using "praiseworthy," and thus allow more discriminating conclusions.

It occurs to me that one might well think that nonpunching JoJo was more praiseworthy in the case in which he was morally ignorant, since in this case he overcame his training to do the right thing. In some sense, he did the right thing even though it was harder for him. I'm curious whether the results might indicate that people were thinking in this way. The write up says that people did not find ignorant JoJo any less praiseworthy, but did they find him MORE praiseworthy, to at least a small degree?

Hi David,

I realize things have moved on, but I want to express some unease about your conclusion that there was "no difference in moral judgments" in the second case.

If you did not have the subjects compare the two cases, this may be a misleading way of reporting the results. It seems possible that degree of praiseworthiness judgments are context sensitive; degree of praiseworthiness may be often judged relative to the contrast class in play (or assumed if not explicit).

It is unsurprising that people thought that both the person who resists bad habits/training/moral views and holds back from hitting someone out of compassion AND the person who sees through the bad moral views (in addition to feeling compassion?) are worthy of some praise. I suspect that in the former case it is the overcoming of bad background conditions, not the act of not-punching that people commend, and I doubt that wording the question carefully will get people to make a clear act/person distinction when reporting their intuitions; but those points are beside my main one.

My point is that the surprise comes in when we are told that subjects think (1) the person who sees through the bad moral view and whose compassionate act is endorsed (and perhaps done) because it accords with his normative thought and second order emotions is judged to be NO BETTER than (2) the person whose compassionate impulse overwhelms him, his moral views, and his self-regarding emotions. I, for example, think that "right" action, or the person who performs the action, is more praiseworthy if the person can take credit for the action in the sense that the act is done wholeheartedly and reflects the normative view of the agent.

Unless the results tell against that thought, I do not think they are too surprising. And unless you can ground the comparative praiseworthiness judgment, I do not see that you have done so.

Again, this seems to cast doubt on this claim:
"there seems to be an asymmetry such that moral ignorance makes people think an agent is less blameworthy but *does not make people think the agent is less praiseworthy*"

Just read the comment by Dale Miller above mine. My comment is mostly redundant and long winded too!

Sorry, but this will have to be very brief, as I'm about to head out and about with visiting family for the day. First, to Dale, yes, in the positive cases subjects assessing the ignorant non-punching JoJo judged him to be slightly more praiseworthy than did the subjects assessing the non-ignorant non-punching JoJo. I actually found this rather astonishing.

Josh, I'm not entirely sure what your first point is. Agreeing that the asymmetry holds with respect to assessment of acts, that still leaves open a number of explanations, including those of mine and Jussi, insofar as subjects might be assessing "acts" very robustly, to include all sorts of background conditions (e.g., upbringing or brainwashing). As for your second point, I completely agree: more testing!

Hi, Dave. Well, I guess that was my point! (Expressed less than carefully, no doubt.) Since the judgments are about action, the results don't discriminate between different operative deeper explanations, or potentially salient background conditions as you put it. We can (and should), of course, look for hypotheses that are consistent with the data, but so long as multiple hypotheses are consistent with the data, the data won't favor selecting one of them over the others. Hence, more (and more discriminating) testing is required.

So I guess I was assuming that Joshua's initial question was whether we could find some hypothesis that could explain the results uniquely well. But maybe at this point it's just a question of cataloging as many equally explanatory hypotheses as we can. If the latter, then I spoke too quickly, and the dialectic between you and Jussi has definitely not taken us away from the question at hand.

David,

I'm very happy with this:

"what people are finding praiseworthy, I think, is that in the positive cases the JoJos are overcoming some bad moral training, one unknowingly and the other knowingly, to refrain from the violence most of us well-trained people never have to think about."

The reason why I'm happy with this is that if that's right then Joshua is wrong in the original post about this:

"there seems to be an asymmetry such that moral ignorance makes people think an agent is less blameworthy but does not make people think the agent is less praiseworthy."

No such asymmetry has been established by the study. This is because the subjects' positive reaction to Jojos overcoming the bad upbringing and their compassionateness masks, as you agree in the quote above, people's direct reactions to the actions as such and whatever differences variances in Jojos' knowledge might have for the evaluation of their actions.

Despite my reservations, the study seems to still show an asymmetry: moral ignorance has a more substantive impact on judgments of blameworthiness than it does on judgments of praiseworthiness.

Perhaps we can explain this by considering the difference between the concepts of praise and blame. In particular, blame seems to have a tighter connection to knowledge and responsibility than praise does.

Consider the fact that I might praise my dog or infant as a means to encouraging them. But when my small child tells his or her first lie I do not blame him; I scold him.

I am suggesting that praise is a broader concept that applies to the positive analogues to *both* cases in which we would blame and cases in which we would just scold. If something along these lines is right, then that might help explain why judgments of blameworthiness are more responsive to ignorance than judgments of praiseworthiness are.

Perhaps we could test this by posing a new set of cases like the last two in your experiment. In the first baby JoJo steals a lollipop but has never done so before and, we might suggest, has no knowledge that it is wrong. In the second baby JoJo steals a lollipop after being taught that it is wrong and after having been scolded for stealing before. We then ask, in each case, (a) whether JoJo should be scolded, blamed, or both. I realize this means going to a binary question and that has problems but I am not sure how else to try to get at this point. You might have: (b) how harshly should we scold him? and (c) how blameworthy is he? as follow up questions.

I guess that the harshness of scolding would be higher in the non-ignorance case than in the ignorance case and that blame would be deemed apt in the non-ignorance case much more often than in the ignorance case. If so, these results would seem to further support the idea that the concepts of praise and blame are different.

Brad,

you really want to blame morally babies? Huh! I also don't see how *ignorance* creates the *asymmetry* in the evaluations of actions if on the positive cases there is no evidence of direct reaction to the actions but rather to prior overcoming of bad moral luck.

If there really was a substantive asymmetry there should be no difference in the evaluations of praiseworthiness of the following types of cases:

"Matt has a friend Bono who he admires. Bono asks Matt to donate money to Oxfom to help the suffering of the poor in the third-world countries. Given that Matt thinks that Bono is uber-cool he happily obliges. He doesn't think that giving alleviating suffering is right or good or that he should do so morally speaking. If the act has such moral qualities, he is ignorant of them. Rather, he wants to be like Bono. If Bono hadn't asked him to donate he wouldn't have done so."

"Ken has learned about the suffering in the third world countries and feels bad about the fact that many people are living in such a poor circumstances. He knows that it is right and good to alleviate the suffering by giving money to Oxfam and therefore he thinks that this is what he ought to do. And, so he does".

Ken knows the moral facts while Matt does not. They do the same actions. Now, ask the question is Matt praiseworthy and is Ken praiseworthy. I'm pretty certain that we get different answers that make the consequences of ignorance symmetric to the bad cases.

Jussi,

Once a child knows the difference between right and wrong and understands that stealing is wrong, I do want to blame them for stealing (given appropriate caveats about defeating conditions).

Maybe my choice of the word 'baby' was bad (if you think it analytic(ish) that no baby has the appropriate understanding) and 'child' would be better, but I hope that does not obscure the point.

On the case you introduce: I agree there is an difference in degree of praise here. That is what I was getting at when criticizing the experimental conclusions as reported above. Maybe that aspect of your comment was not aimed at me? In any case, I think the switch to 'child' from 'baby' is a solid idea (not that I will be running any experiments any time soon!)

Jussi,

You wrote:

"I also don't see how *ignorance* creates the *asymmetry* in the evaluations of actions if on the positive cases there is no evidence of direct reaction to the actions but rather to prior overcoming of bad moral luck."

I doubt that evaluations of the praiseworthiness of actions can be cleanly distinguished from the praiseworthiness of the features that explain the actions.

More after I go teach!

Hi, Jussi. Can you tell me if I'm reading your last couple of comments (and earlier comments) correctly? Are you suggesting that participants' responses confounded evaluations of what JoJo did with evaluations of some character trait or motivational state of JoJo?

Now I don't know enough about empirical research method and design to be sure about this, but given that the question participants answered specifically asked whether JoJo was "praise[blame]worthy for what he did", shouldn't we take that as evidence that participants were evaluating what JoJo did, rather than his character traits or motivational states? Notice that taking this as evidence doesn't mean that it's decisive evidence. Maybe there is some confounding going on, and maybe later studies (perhaps even using your Oxfam case!) will reveal that, in which case the evidence from Dave's study will have to be re-evaluated. But, for now, we don't have such counter-evidence. (Or maybe we do, but it's armchair- rather than lab-derived.)

(I'd add that there's no guarantee that the folk theory of morality is consistent and coherent, so even if we get counter-evidence, it might remain an open question whether the present study should be re-evaluated, or whether the folk are simply inconsistent on this kind of thing.)

I don't know about that. Even the question seems to ask whether *Jojo* was praiseworthy for what he did and not whether *what* Jojo did was praiseworthy. The way the question is set up seems to get the subjects to evaluate Jojo rather than his action. If Jojo is attributed with praiseworthy features in the vignette, it just doesn't seem surprising that subjects are willing to praise him for non-praiseworthy action.

The problem is that this case is asymmetric to the bad case so it doesn't give the conclusion that there were asymmetric reactions to a symmetric case. To make the cases symmetrical, we would have to attribute in the evil cases Jojo with a blameworthy character-trait - say experiences sadistic pleasures from the pains of others to match his compassion in the good case, and overcoming of a good moral education for overcoming a bad moral education in the good case. But, once we make this additions to the bad vignette, it wouldn't be surprising that subjects would find even the ignorant bad Jojo blameworthy for this actions.

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