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Thomas Alexander Jahnke

I have noticed that I find social-causal explanations of people's behavior highly effective in making me feel less judging about them but that the same does not work for my own behavior. So the idea of bi-dimensionality seems intuitively plausible to me. I have been considering doing my PhD work on the phenomenology of freedom and the last point you raise is one kind of empirical research that would be useful for that project. If I settle on that topic, I might contact you about it.

Jorgen Hansen

Hauke, I am very excited to see that others are utilizing experimental philosophy as a part of their undergraduate senior theses. (I hope to employ experimental methods in my upcoming senior thesis as well.)

I have one comment - which I hope is not off-base or trivial in light of the overall project.

In your paper, you argue that participants can be convinced by *rational arguments* that determinism is true, but only when regarding others (i.e. the "people"-condition). This, however, does not carry over to the "you"-condition - i.e. participants are reluctant to ascribe determinism to their own behaviors. I wonder if these results emerge as such (at least partially) in virtue of the fact that 'you' is very concrete, whereas 'people' (in general) remains quite abstract. For example, many people will vote for an increase of "40,000 troops" to Iraq, but will be more reluctant to vote to deploy "Fred Davis from Arkansas and Jane Wilson from Connecticut". However, if this is the case, then it doesn't seem to be a matter of "rational argument" that convinces someone to vote for such a thing so much as an emotional distance from the thing for which one is voting. (And likewise, maybe even especially so, when it comes to ascribing determinism to 'people' rather than to the 'self'.)

So it seems like Sinnott-Armstrong's arguments (e.g. that the cognitive system responsible for concrete representations differs from the system responsible for abstract representation) might be applicable to your results.

Could you say something about this and how it relates, if at all, to your paper?

John Ellis

I think John Cleese summed up the situation nicely!


I wonder how you can be so sure about the presumed negative social aspects of belief in a just world. There is some literature that shows that belief in a just world is associated with prosocial behavior. For example:
The prosocial, adaptive qualities of just world beliefs: Implications for the relationship between justice and forgiveness
And there is an old tradition of thought that says belief in determinism is associated with fatalism, which can not be good.


@Jorgen: You have a very good point. I really believe that the emotional distance is driving this effect and is behind the bidimensional distinction (the 'intuitive feeling' of free will for the self). However, I'm not sure if I do induce the effect with my manipulation: if it's just about emotional distance, then participants in the 'They'-condition should also have higher beliefs in determinism for self, and not only for others or not? In any case, to rule this out a bit more you would need a more complicated design and see whether the 'you''s or 'they''s per se makes people agree more to certain things. For instance, you could use a 2x2 design with one factor being 'you' vs. 'they' and the other factor manipulating the conclusion of whether there is free will or not. Then when you ask for determinism beliefs for the self and others I would hypothesize you only get effects for beliefs in determinism for others in the 'they are determined' condition. You could also have a factor that writes the texts in the past or present- I would hypothesize that the past self condition would also trigger higher ratings in belief in determinism ('while the present self is usually judged as having free will because of high complexity and low predictability, decisions of the past self are often said to be more (mono-)causally determined, because the behavior is highly predictable and does not appear so complex any longer.' - this is jsut a theory, though). But one of the effects is probably emotional distance. I haven't thought this through all to well, but maybe that would answer your question?

@John: You were caused to like this video because of the name-letter effect (super-stimuli in your case) and I don't even need to take into account quantum indeterminacy to be sure of that. :)
But no seriously it does not summarize what I am getting at so well actually.
I agree that we can't predict so much of human behavior yet (especially the gene thing is messy, but we are able to explain some behaviors); human behavior is a highly complex issue nevertheless that should be explored with interactive multilevel analyses.
But just because we don't know about all the reasons for people doing what they do, does not mean there aren't any reasons out there and we cannot find out more about it (and that we then can't propagate things that make people do 'good' things and discourage things that make people do 'bad' things).
Predicting behavior does not give me any cognitive closure- quite the contrary actually as you constantly have to think about the reasons for why people do good/bad/mediocre things and you can never explain anything completely nor can you explain anything simply. But I argue that the deterministic view shifts your focus to causal (or random if you really want) explanations of behavior. If you believe that people are indeterministic initiators, however, I would argue that it might make things easier. Or what did you mean?

@rolf: You are absolutely right that 'Just world beliefs for the self' are probably important for general well-being, meaning of life etc and that this is also correlated with prosocial behaviors. In fact, if you would not have these beliefs it would almost be like a depressing anomie belief. However, there is evidence that this is not the case for the 'Just world belief for the others'. Here's a quote from the thesis:
"Closely linked to attribution theory (and its fundamental attribution error) is the just world
hypothesis – people’s need for the belief that their environment is a just and orderly place where
people get what they deserve (Lerner & Miller, 1978). It has been proposed that the belief in a
just world is not a unidimensional construct, and that it should be distinguished between belief for
the Self versus Others (Lipkus, Dalbert, & Siegler, 1996), because only “the belief in a just world
for the Self (and not for Others) was correlated to evaluations of the meaning of life” (Begue &
Bastounis, 2003, p. 435). However, prosocial behaviors like donating to a homeless person were
associated with the belief in a just world for self, but not for others (Begue, Charmoillaux,
Cochet, Cury, & De Suremain, 2008). Moreover, belief in a just world for Others was
“significantly correlated to discrimination against the elderly, stigmatisation of poverty, and higher
penal punitiveness, while belief in a just world for Self was weakly or not related to these
variables” (Begue & Bastounis, 2003, p. 435). These findings mirror the discussion of why it is hard to belief in determinism for oneself." So in other words, I think it's plausible that, you have to belief in a just world for yourself (which is also important in order to satisfy some of the core motives that human beings strive for according to social psychologists, like mastery and control of the environment. Then on the other hand, I think if you believe in a just world for others, then you make the fundamental attribution error and attribute bad (or even good) character/will to people, who are in good and bad situations. The study you cite does not take this into account as far as I can see. Does that answer your question?

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3QD Prize 2012: Wesley Buckwalter