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March 09, 2013


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As usual, I'll follow up later with a post analyzing the survey results and explaining why I'm interested in them.

Warning for those who haven't taken the survey yet: This comment has substantive content.

I really wanted an "I'm not sure" or "It depends" option, at least for the first question. Suppose I care about environmental issues to a great extent. The expressive value of making the relevant sacrifices might outweigh the reasons provided by the negative effects on my family. (As a rough analogue: You might think it is permissible to vote for a democrat in an overwhelmingly red state even if you knew that your family would be ostracized.)

Hi David,

Fair enough. But I suppose that how you should answer just depends on whether you think that the reasons stemming from whatever expressive value you think that making such sacrifices has outweighs the reasons that you have to ensure that you and your family fares well.

I think I was reading the "you" as "one," which is why I wanted the "It depends." If the "you" is actually ME, then "I'm not sure." Either way, this is obviously a small point; I suspect non-philosophers won't have the same difficulty answering this kind of question. I can't wait to see the results!

It would be helpful to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a "significant sacrifice" in this context. Does it require selling you car and biking everywhere, refraining from airline travel, quitting a job if it requires extensive airline travel, eating vegetarian (since it leaves a smaller carbon footprint than eating meat), or avoiding the use of hot water heaters and other high-power consuming electric appliances? I suspect that just how much is required to make sufficiently drastic reductions may alter some peoples' reactions to the case.

Also, are we to assume that we have a family in the case (i.e., a spouse and children)? If not, then single folks are likely to give less moral weight to the future welfare of their families.

Dear Doug,
What "intuitions" are you trying to tease out with these questions? Secondly, you are aware that there is an awful lot of psychological studies in these kind of collective action problems performed by social psychologists with lots of experience how to construct questionaires and experiments? What does this add to what those folk have figured out about how our intuitions work?

Trevor: Fair point.

Bruno: I'll explain in a follow up post in the next day or two. I don't mean to be adding anything to those psychological studies.

In interpreting the results, it may also be important to recognize that some responses will reflect 'convictions' rather than 'intuitions'. My opinions on this particular matter are not so much the product of gut-level hunches as entailed by the ethical theory I subscribe to.

Would it make a difference to the results if we're told that the subject knows/doesn't know about the unfortunately determined outcome?

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