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Eddy Nahmias

Hi Justin and Edouard, this is a really fascinating set of studies (it looks like the philosophical set up is impressive too, but I skipped that for now). I really like the way you suggest that certain philosophical views derive from (and in essence, solidify and exaggerate) features of our folk psychology. I think this is a useful direction for the positive program of x-phi to progress (and to set it apart from the negative program).

Two quick questions: (1) Did I read study 3 results right--that a significant majority of participants are saying it'd be more moral to experiment on the high experience (wooly) monkeys even in the no anesthesia case? If so, why don't you discuss that finding, which is surprising to me and seems inconsistent with some of your other findings.
(2) what's up with the high responses in study 2 (and high but not quite as high in study 4) to the questions about whether it is moral to kill (destroy the way of life, etc.) of the robot slugs who are stupid and don't feel pain?! That surprised me.

Justin Sytsma

Thanks Eddy! I think you're getting things reversed for the Study 3 results: The percentages are given for those selecting the high experience monkeys (i.e., answering that it would be more moral to use the high experience monkeys in the experiment). So, it is a *minority* in each case that selects the high experience monkeys, although participants were more than twice as likely to select the high experience monkeys when anesthesia would be used than when it wouldn't.

I agree that the level of moral concern expressed for the low experience/low agency robot slugs is surprising. Even for the question with the lowest mean (the "capture" question in Study 4), the most frequent response was a 7. I'm not really sure what to make of this. Any thoughts? One possibility is that it is similar to the example of the crystal formations in Footnote 10 – that alien lifeforms, even robot slugs, are interesting enough that they should be left alone. While I don't show much concern at all for the ordinary slugs I find if I pull up a rock in my yard, I feel differently about the banana slugs you see in the redwood forests in California. Maybe something similar is going on for the robot slugs? Perhaps it reflects that a non-trivial percentage of people are inclined to treat living things generally, or animals in particular, as having *some* moral standing. (Jainists provide a nice example of an extreme version of this.)

Sean Valinoti

I guess for me the why is not as important as if it is ethical to apply these judgments to living things in the first place, or if all living things should be treated the same.

Edouard Machery


Naturally, we do not deny the importance of the philosophical question! But it is also puzzling that philosophical thinking so neatly falls into two traditions, and, in our opinion, this phenomenon calls for explanation.

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3QD Prize 2012: Wesley Buckwalter