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We Can Test the Experience Machine. Dan Weijers Victoria University of Wellington June 2011. What Does X-Phi Do?. Lots of experimental philosophy is designed to test empirical premises like: ‘We would not plug in’

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we can test the experience machine

We Can Test the Experience Machine

Dan Weijers

Victoria University of Wellington

June 2011

what does x phi do
What Does X-Phi Do?
  • Lots of experimental philosophy is designed to test empirical premises like: ‘We would not plug in’
    • “Philosophers working in… ‘experimental philosophy’ have begun… to collect data about folk intuitions”
    • Nahmias, E., et al. (2007). Surveying Freedom: Folk Intuitions about Free Will and Moral Responsibility, Philosophical Psychology, 18(5): 561.
  • But lots also just wants to understand how judgements about thought experiments are formed:
    • “[To] use the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people make judgments that bear on debates in philosophy”
    • Nadelhoffer, T. & Nahmias, E. (2007). The Past and Future of Experimental Philosophy, Philosophical Explorations, 10(2): 123.
applying x phi to arguments
Applying X-Phi to Arguments
  • Typical argument:
    • If pleasure = g. good, then we’d plug in
    • We would not plug in
    • Therefore, pleasure ≠ g. good
  • Test P2 (if true, go to next step, if false, then claim the argument fails)
    • ACP: you did a faulty test: the wrong ‘we’ or procedural bias
  • Tweak supposedly irrelevant factor of thought experiment, test again, and compare results (if different in right way, claim that P1 is false because irrelevant factors unduly influence judgements)
    • ACP: You did a faulty test: the wrong ‘we’, or procedural bias, or added other irrelevant factors with your tweak
smith a limit on what can be tested
Smith: A Limit on what can be Tested
  • We can’t usefully test thought experiments with surveys when…
  • Respondents need to adopt the role of confronted agents…
    • i.e. when they have to predict what they would do if the scenario were real
    • Usually involves “confusion, incredulity, fear, etc.”
    • Smith, B. (2011). Can We Test the Experience Machine?, Ethical Perspectives, 18(1): 45.
  • Because participants’ judgements about what they would do would otherwise not be made from the correct frame of mind… leading to the possibility that
    • They might report what they think they should do or what the experimenter wants to hear instead of what they would actually do
smith factors compromising tests
Smith: Factors Compromising Tests
  • Our survey tests of thought experiments are less useful to the extent that:
    • Respondents need to adopt the role of confronted agents
      • When they “anticipate their own futures”, and/or
      • They “identify with the moral decisions of others”
      • Smith, B. (2011). Can We Test the Experience Machine?, Ethical Perspectives, 18(1): 46.
    • The survey suffers from methodological weaknesses
      • Sampling
      • Participant ineptitude
      • Procedural bias: prepping, wording, question order (Grice)
smith we can t test the inverted experience machine
Smith: We Can’t Test the Inverted Experience Machine
  • “…the inverted experience machine, as well as other[s]… have a unique set of characteristics that make it impossible to gather the right subjects to test. Therefore, in practice, these thought experiments are impossible to test.”
    • Smith, B. (2011). Can We Test the Experience Machine?, Ethical Perspectives, 18(1): 37. (My emphasis)
smith why we can t test the inverted experience machine
Smith: Why We Can’t Test the Inverted Experience Machine
  • “…unique set of characteristics…”:
    • Requirement that participants adopt the role of confronted agents
      • When they “anticipate their own futures” – e.g. when asked ‘what would you do?’
      • Requirement for being a partially confronted agent: When they “anticipate their own futures…, or attempt to identify with the moral decisions of others, to some extent” (Smith, 2011, p 46)
    • Setup makes it impossible for participants to adopt the role of confronted agents
      • Surveys “that address thought experiments about moral dilemmas” (Smith, 2011, p 44) – Infer: all options involve significant losses?
      • Participants opinion asked for via survey, rather than behaviour observed in actual case (Smith, 2011, p 39 + elsewhere)
weijers why we can test the inverted experience machine 1
Weijers: Why We Can Test the Inverted Experience Machine (1)
  • Requirement that participants adopt the role of confronted agents:
    • When they “anticipate their own futures” (Smith, 2011, p 46) – e.g. ask ‘what would you do?’
      • This requirement is not met
      • ‘Anticipating their own futures’ is not a necessary aspect of the Inverted Experience Machine
      • E.g. What should a stranger choose in the Inverted Experience Machine case?
weijers why we can test the inverted experience machine 2
Weijers: Why We Can Test the Inverted Experience Machine (2)
  • Requirement for being a partially confronted agent:
    • When they “anticipate their own futures…, or attempt to identify with the moral decisions of others, to some extent” (Smith, 2011, p 46)
      • This requirement is faulty
      • Just because participants have to “attempt to identify with the moral decisions of others” does not always mean that they need to get (at all) emotional to give a useful response
      • In fact making rational (not emotional) decisions is what we expect of those making important decisions on behalf of others in lots of cases
      • E.g. policymakers – should uni be free?
weijers why we can test the inverted experience machine 3
Weijers: Why We Can Test the Inverted Experience Machine (3)
  • Amended requirement for being a partially confronted agent:
    • When they “anticipate their own futures…, or attempt to identify with the moral decisions of others, to some extent [in some cases]”
      • This requirement does not apply to some cases of testing the Inverted Experience Machine
      • When deciding if someone should stick with a machine life or go to reality we are better of putting emotions (“confusion, incredulity, fear, etc.”) behind us.
      • And, when trying to learn about what people think we should really value in a life, the same goes
can philosophers usefully discuss the inverted experience machine
Can Philosophers Usefully Discuss the Inverted Experience Machine?
  • It’s not clear where Smith stands on this
  • If we can’t test the IEM because we don’t get emotional, can philosophers make any use of it?
  • Did anyone feel “confusion, incredulity, and fear etc.” about the thought experiments?
    • If not, then (according to Smith’s framework) your judgement about it is useless
    • Maybe Smith doesn’t mind this result – I’m not sure
summary
Summary
  • Smith 1: thought experiments that require confronted agent respondents cannot be usefully surveyed because the appropriate emotions don’t come up
  • Smith 2: Inverted Exp. Mach. requires confronted agent respondents
  • Smith 3: Therefore, Inverted Exp. Mach. cannot be usefully surveyed
  • Me: not all Inverted Exp. Mach.’s require confronted agent respondents
  • Me: if Smith 1 is correct, then all use of dilemmas in philosophy is a waste of time or at least less useful than is usually thought