Post Survey Round Up

I’ve pasted the survey questions and results below. Note that not everyone saw the whole survey. Since the point of the survey was to test the intuitions of only those who accept that there are objective time-indexed obligations, only those who answered 'yes' to questions 1 and 2 were asked to answer questions 3-5. More specifically, I wanted to see whether those who accept that there are objective time-indexed obligations would also accept that a necessary condition for being obligated at t1 to do A at t2 is that there is some intention such that if the agent were to form that intention at t1 one would do A at t2.

Here’s some background: Howard-Snyder (1997) has argued that some condition to the effect that one would succeed (or probably succeed) to do A (e.g., beat Karpov at chess) if one were to try to do A is necessary for having the ability to do A and, thus, also for being obligated to do A. And, in Carlson’s discussion of Howard-Snyder, he points out that even if we are to accept some such condition, it should take something like the following weak form: “A person can perform an action A only if there is some description of A such that if he were to try to perform A under this description he would succeed” (Carlson 1999, 92). Now, this is rather crude, as Carlson admits. For one thing, it may be that were I to try to act spontaneously I would fail to do so. But if I would succeed to act spontaneously if I were to just try to relax and have a few drinks, I want to say that I still have the ability to act spontaneously. So, very roughly, I would suggest something along these lines: S can perform an action A1 only if there is some action A2 (where A2 may or may not be identical to A1) such that if S were to intend to perform A2, S would perform A1. I accept something like this condition. Thus, I answered ‘yes’ to questions 3 and 4, but ‘no’ to question 5. Unfortunately, though, only two other people shared this pattern of responses out of the 21 others who answered question 5.

I guess that my intuitions are pretty idiosyncratic.

 

 

Question 1*

Consider the following:

On Monday, Smith rightly thinks to herself that she “ought to give her students a list of paper topics on Wednesday. If Smith’s obligations do not change over time, then it is always the case that Smith ought to provide the list on Wednesday. Wednesday comes, however, and Smith arrives in class without the list. If ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, it then follows that Smith is able on Wednesday to give the class the list. Yet although this is something that Smith was once able to do, she is no longer able to do it. (CURRAN 1995, p. 72)”

CLAIM: In general, it appears that any moral judgment concerning the obligatoriness of an action may be fully expressed by a statement of the form “S ought at t0 to perform act A at t1,” where time t1 is understood as some time that’s no earlier than t0 (Goldman 1976, p. 450). Thus, we can say that Smith was obligated on Monday to give her students the list of paper topics on Wednesday. However, Smith is not obligated at the present time to give her students the list of paper topics given that she is at present unable to provide her students with such a list. Nevertheless, she may be obligated to make it up to her students in some way.

I agree with CLAIM.

 Yes 

 87 

 60.84% 

 No 

 56 

 39.16% 

 

Question 2*

Safe 2-to-the-power-of-2: In order to bring about The Good (that is, the state of affairs in which he wins $100,000 and two lives are saved), Abe must open a safe. The safe has a combination lock consisting of two buttons numbered 1-2. It is now t0 and Abe has not yet pressed any buttons. To open the safe, Abe must enter the combination 2-2 by pressing button 2 twice. Now, if Abe were to intend at t0 to enter 2-2, he would. And he can form the intention at t0 to enter 2-2. But, unfortunately, Abe has no idea what the correct combination is and he gets only one crack at opening the safe.

I hold that, in some sense of obligation, Abe is obligated at t0 to open the safe.

 Yes 

 28 

 37.33% 

 No 

 47 

 62.67% 

 

 

Question 3*

Safe 100-to-the-power-of-30: In order to bring about The Good (that is, the state of affairs in which he wins $100,000 and two lives are saved), Abe must open a safe. The safe has a combination lock consisting of one hundred buttons numbered 1-100. It is now t0 and Abe has not yet pressed any buttons. To open the safe, Abe must enter the combination 1-2-3-4… -30 by pressing buttons 1-2-3-4… -30 in that order. Unfortunately, though, Abe has no idea what the correct combination is and he gets only one crack at opening the safe. But note that if Abe were to form at t0 the intention to take crack at opening the safe, he would then decide to try to do so by entering the combination 1-2-3-4… -30. Moreover, he can form this intention and would follow through with this intention were he to form it, entering the correct combination and thereby opening the safe.

I hold that, in some sense of obligation, Abe is obligated at t0 to open the safe.

 Yes 

 21 

 91.30% 

 No 

 2 

 8.70% 

 

Question 4*

Safe 100-to-the-power-of-3: In order to bring about The Good (that is, the state of affairs in which he wins $100,000 and two lives are saved), Abe must open a safe. The safe has a combination lock consisting of one hundred buttons numbered 1-100. It is now t0 and Abe has not yet pressed any buttons. To open the safe, Abe must enter the combination 7-4-76 by pressing buttons 7, 4, and 76 in that order. Now, if Abe were to intend at t0 to enter 7-4-76, he would. And Abe can form the intention at t0 to enter 7-4-76. But, unfortunately, Abe has no idea what the correct combination is and he gets only one crack at opening the safe.

I hold that, in some sense of obligation, Abe is obligated at t0 to open the safe.

 Yes 

 20 

 90.91% 

 No 

 2 

 9.09% 

 

Question 5*

Second Safe 100-to-the-power-of-30: In order to bring about The Good (that is, the state of affairs in which he wins $100,000 and two lives are saved), Abe must open a safe. The safe has a combination lock consisting of one hundred buttons numbered 1-100. It is now t0 and Abe has not yet pressed any buttons. To open the safe, Abe must enter the combination 57-67-98-36-24-58-66-54-42-6-98-94-7-62-52-84-89-57-85-5-83-90-28-49-78-23-37-27-22-42 by pressing that exact sequence of buttons. Unfortunately, though, Abe has no idea what the correct combination is and he gets only one crack at opening the safe. As a matter of fact, no matter what intention Abe were to form at t0, he would not end up opening the safe. If he were to form at t0 the intention to enter 1-2-3-4… -30, he would fail to open the safe. And if he were to form at t0 the intention to simply take a crack at opening the safe (without specifying in his mind what numbers to enter), he would in fact fail to enter the correct combination. What’s more, even if he were somehow to form at t0 the intention to enter that exact sequence of numbers that the correct combination consists in, he would in fact forget some of the digits that he had initially intended to enter midway through entering the combination and consequently he would end up entering at least one incorrect digit. But although Abe will fail to enter the correct combination no matter what intention he forms at t0, Abe would push button 57 at t1 if he were to intend at t0 to push button 57 at t1. And having done that, he would then push button 67 at t2 if he were to intend at t1 to push button 67 at t2. And so and so forth for the entire sequence. So, although he will fail to enter the correct combination no matter what intention he forms at t0, there is a schedule of intentions extending over a time interval beginning at t0 such that if Abe’s intentions were to follow this schedule, he would open the safe. It’s just that no matter what he intends at t0, his intentions will not in fact follow this schedule.

I hold that, in some sense of obligation, Abe is obligated at t0 to open the safe.

 Yes 

 16 

 72.73% 

 No 

 6 

 27.27% 

 

2 Replies to “Post Survey Round Up

  1. I wonder if those who answered ‘yes’ to Q5 had a weaker “some sense of obligation” in mind than they did when answering Q4?
    Even if everyone shares your intuition that the securable intention condition applies to an important sense of objective obligation, they might still answer ‘yes’ to Q5 so long as they are more liberal than us in what other senses of ‘obligation’ they countenance. (E.g., if they also think there’s a sense of ‘objective obligation’ corresponding to, say, the best physically possible outcome.)
    So there’s some risk here that the questions weren’t necessarily getting at what you wanted…

  2. Hi Richard,
    I hope that’s what is going on, and it’s not just that I have wacky intuitions.
    I’m sure that there are many design flaws with my survey. It would be interested in hearing from those who took the survey whether the relevant sense of obligation changed as they proceeded through the questions.

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