The Department of Logic & Philosophy of Science and Department of Philosophy present

"Rational Learners and Non-Utilitarian Rules"
with Shaun Nichols, Professor, University of Arizona

Friday, October 18, 2013
3:00 p.m.
Social Science Tower, Room 777

Hundreds of studies on moral dilemmas show that people’s judgments do not conform to utilitarian principles. However, the exact nature of this nonconformity remains unclear. Some maintain that people rely on deontological “side constraints” that are insensitive to cost-benefit analysis. However, the scenarios that are used to support this intuition, e.g., the magistrate and the mob, contain an important confound. In these cases, we consider whether it is appropriate for one person to violate a moral rule in order to prevent others from committing similar violations. In that case, people tend to say that it would be wrong to violate the rule. In a series of experiments, Nichols showed that people give very different responses when the question is whether an agent should violate a moral rule so that she herself doesn’t have to commit more such violations in the future. This suggests that a critical feature of our moral rules is that they function in an intra-agent, rather than inter-agent manner. But this raises a further question – why do our rules have this non-utilitarian character? One prominent view (e.g. Mikhail 2007) holds that the structure of moral rules plausibly depends on an innate moral grammar. Nichols proposes instead that given the evidence that the young child has, a rational Bayesian learner would in fact arrive at non-utilitarian rules.  

For further information, please contact Patty Jones, or 949-824-1520.

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