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March 12, 2011

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In question one, does Phil know of Dr. Evil's plans?

Just to be sure, does Phil know with certainty that Dr. Evil will administer the serum each time?

I guess I have a bit of problem with the experimental set-up. Of course the cases are quite complex and I would worry what this does to the data. However, the main problem I have is that in the prompt you introduce the distinction between being objectively obligated and subjectively obligated to do something. This strikes me to me a highly theoretical distinction. It's not clear to me that I at least am making intuitive, ordinary language judgments about what someone is objectively obligated and subjectively obligated to do. So, I do have some intuitions - perhaps not very strong - about what Phil ought to do. However, I don't think I know whether these judgments are about objective or subjective obligations. I'm not even sure I know what they are.

I guess the point is that, if you ask people's intuitions about cases, it would be worthwhile to phrase the judgments in terms that people use when they make intuitive judgments rather than asking people's intuitions about the applicability of highly technical terms. Making the cases as simple as possible would probably also help to make the data more reliable.

Hi Ryan and Kelly,

Go ahead and assume that Phil has such knowledge, although I don't think that it matters given that we're talking about what Phil objectively ought to do (that is, what he ought to do given the facts) as opposed to what he subjectively ought to do (that is, what he ought to do given what his evidence is).

Hi Jussi,

I think that you're right. I should have just left out the bit about the objective and subjective distinction and just said that Phil knows all the pertinent facts.

In Case 1, Pat's care is delegated to Ashton. Is it possible that Phil not delegate and to take charge of Pat's care himself?

Hi Dan,

No. He must put Ashton in charge of Pat’s care for tomorrow.

Thanks, Doug. Then I change my answer on Case 1.

I felt completely unambivalent about all these cases except (5). (Is that weird?) In (1) and (3), Phil clearly ought to administer Drug P; I don't see why it would make a difference whether it's himself or his assistant that Phil expects will be prevented from administering the full Drug C treatment. In (2) and (4), he clearly ought to administer Drug C, but only because what he really ought to do is administer Drug C and take the pill.

But I think (5) introduces a significant source of confusion distinct from the relation between an action and its future. Suppose, as of course a lot of people think, that whether I ought to perform an action may depend on the intention with which it's perform (or something similar, like its end or plan or whatever).

Now, in the context of this supposition, we might interpret the first survey option, which I'll restate as (a) "Phil ought to administer Drug C" in two ways:

(a1) Phil ought to administer Drug C [given his present intention].
(a2) Phil ought to administer Drug C [given an intention to also take the pill].

Now, I'm not sure whether readers will tacitly interpret (a) in either of these ways in the second and fourth questions--nothing about Phil's intentions are specified. These questions seem pretty neutral about this. (I suspect, however, that it will be natural for many of them to interpret it as (a2).)

The last question, however, is obviously not neutral. Rather, it is heavily biased in favor of (a1). One feels uncomfortable with choosing (a) in this case, because doing so has the sense of endorsing Phil's wicked plan.

If we do not distinguish the interpretations (a1) and (a2), the fifth question raises all kinds of worries. For the earlier plausible claim that (b) "Phil ought to both administer Drug C and take the pill" presumably entails (a). If the survey question is biased in favor of (a1), this is extremely problematic. But it's very clear that (b) doesn't entail (a1)--it only entails (a2). (If I ought to do pursue some end, then insofar as I ought to pursue the means to that end, I only ought to pursue it as such--that is, given my intention of continuing to pursue the end by taking the other necessary means.)

Yet, again, the presentation of the survey makes this very hard to see, in a way I suspect will be bad for your data. It makes it seem as though the fifth question introduces additional considerations that do not apply to the second and fourth questions--when in fact the right answer is just (a) in the sense of (a2) in all three cases.

Two smallish things to fix in the comment above.

First, I described (a) and its interpretations as though all three cases just involved Phil, which of course they don't. But I don't think Ashton makes a difference at all. (Just substitute claims about what Phil ought to do for claims about what Phil ought to have Ashton do.)

Second, other ways of distinguishing (a1) and (a2) might be better. For example, we might (I think even more plausibly) distinguish claims about what Phil ought to do, considering what he does intend, and from claims about what Phil ought to do, considering what he ought to intend. That is, we'd have:

(a1') Phil ought to administer Drug C [considering the intention he does have--such that this act, combined with that intention, constitutes a permissible/obligatory act-intention pair].
(a1') Phil ought to administer Drug C [considering the intention he ought to have--such that this act, combined with that intention, constitutes a permissible/obligatory act-intention pair].

This may make the contrast between the fifth question and the fourth (and less directly, the second) even clearer. In the cases where Phil's present intention is unspecified, it's natural to think it's left open to deliberation--such that the question of what he ought to do can only be settled with reference to what he ought to intend. And of course (a2') is still a perfectly plausible answer to the fifth question, too--it's no less true here than in those cases the intention he ought to have is to administer Drug C and take the pill. But, again, the presentation of the question biases the reader in favor of (a1').

I think I'll wait for the movie.

Hi Everyone,

Thanks to all of you who completed the survey. For results and analysis, please click here: http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2011/03/post-survey-wrap-up-the-two-medincines.html.


Ben: You say, "I ought to perform an action may depend on the intention." I don't think that it's plausible to think that what I objectively ought to do depends on what intention I would have in performing that action.

Tomkow: I'm still looking for funding for the movie. Are you willing to be a producer and put up two million or so?

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