First off, a huge thank you to Gregg for all of his posts! This past month has been a really exciting one here at Flickers. Before we turn over to next month's author, I wanted to get people's thoughts on an issue that has been cropping up a lot in recent work in experimental philosophy.
This work has uncovered a number of surprising asymmetries in the way people think about reason and emotion. These asymmetries would each be pretty interesting in themselves, but what makes them even more exciting is the way that they all seem to be connected with each other.
To take one example, consider the way people think about weakness of will. Suppose that an agent reasons about what to do and decides that she should perform action A. She is completely certain that this is the right thing to do and fully intends to go through with it. But then, when it comes right down to it, she is overcome by an emotion pulling her in the opposite direction and ends up performing some other action B. Is she thereby displaying weakness of will?
You might think that the answer is clearly yes, but experimental studies consistently find that people's ordinary intuitions show a more complex pattern. In particular, people's ordinary intuitions appear to depend on the moral status of A and B. For example, suppose that the agent reasons that she should commit murder (a morally bad action), but when it comes right down to it, she is overcome with compassion and ends up sparing her intended victim (a morally good action). In that case, people show a tendency to say that she has not displayed weakness of will. [This effect has been explored in a series of amazing papers by May & Holton, Sousa & Mauro, Beebe and Doucet & Turri.]