Tag Archives: Philosophy Experiments

Men, Women and Consent

A little while ago I flagged up a new interactive philosophy experiment that deals with issues of consent. It’s now been completed by well over a thousand people, and it’s throwing up some interesting results. In particular, and I can’t say I find it surprising, there seems to be a quite a large difference between how men and women view consent.

(What’s to follow will make more sense if you complete the activity before reading.)

I’ve analysed the responses to two of the scenarios featured in the experiment. The first asks whether you would be doing something wrong if you went ahead with a sexual encounter in the knowledge that your partner would almost certainly come to regret it later. The second asks whether you would be doing something wrong if you went ahead with a sexual encounter in the knowledge that your partner (a) had been drinking (albeit they remain cogent); and (b) would not have consented to the sexual encounter if they hadn’t been drinking.

The data shows that 68% of women, compared to only 58% of men, think it would be wrong to go ahead with the sexual encounter in the Future Regret case. And that 79% of women, compared to only 70% of men, think it would be wrong to go ahead in the Alcohol case.

These results are easily statistically significant, although, as always, I need to point out that the sample is not representative, and that there might be confounding variables in play (e.g., it’s possible that there are systematic differences between the sorts of males and females who have completed this activity – e.g., age).

Where Do You Set The Bar For Sexual Consent?

I’ve just completed a new interactive activity for my Philosophy Experiments web site. It deals with some of the issues of consent that I’ve been thinking and blogging about (e.g., here & here) over these last few months.

But You’ll Regret It In the Morning

The data is already showing something interesting – namely, that men and women tend to have a slightly different attitude towards some of the complications surrounding consent. Basically, it seems men are more likely than women to think a sexual encounter is morally permissible in the (arguably) borderline situations the activity focuses upon.

As usual, let me know if you spot any glaring errors, lacunae, etc.

Oh yes, I’ve also written a piece for the Huffington Post that covers similar issues.

Atheists, Morality and Distant Others

In this post, I noted some rather curious data thrown up by Morality Play, an interactive activity I developed for Philosophy Experiments. It shows that 32% of atheists respond that they are not morally obliged to help somebody in severe need in India, even though to do so wouldn’t cost them much, compared to only 22% of Christians who respond the same way (a difference that is easily statistically significant). In other words, the data shows that people who self-identify as Christians are considerably more likely to think there is a moral obligation to help somebody in severe need (in India) than people who self-identify as atheists.

I got to thinking about this again partly because of the surprising and disappointing failure of the petition in support of Indonesian (ex-?)atheist, Alexander Aan, which only attracted 8,000 signatures, well short of the 25,000 required to secure a government response. (To put this number into some sort of context, consider that Richard Dawkins alone has more than 430,000 followers on Twitter.) A possible (partial) explanation for this failure, supported by the data noted above, is that many (online) atheists don’t believe they have a strong moral obligation towards relatively anonymous or distant others, or don’t feel the pull of such an obligation even if they believe they have it (or think they believe they have it).

There is some further evidence to support this explanation in the early results from another interactive activity at Philosophy Experiments – Peter Singer and the Drowning Child. This features the following question (amongst others):

Are you morally obliged to make a relatively small donation, perhaps to the value of a new shirt or a night out at a restaurant, to an overseas aid agency such as Oxfam within the next few days (and even if you have previously made such a donation, perhaps even recently)?

To date, a few more than 3500 people have completed the activity. The data shows that only 31% of people who self-identify as atheists respond that they are morally obliged to make such a donation, compared to 36% of people who self-identify as Christian, a difference that is statistically significant at p <.05. Moreover, if we also look at people who also self-identify as Muslim and Jewish (i.e., as adherents of Judaism), then the gap between how atheists and people who self-identify as religious respond widens (31% to  38%).

A few points here.

First, yes, I know, the sample is self-selecting (albeit in a more complex way than with your usual internet poll, because the data collection aspect of these activities is not what motivates people to complete them and is largely hidden), and, therefore, one cannot reliably generalize to any particular population.

Second, it’s entirely possible there are confounding variables at work here. For example, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the people who self-identify as atheist are on average younger than those people who self-identify as religious.

Third, notwithstanding these two points , this general result has now been found across two independent activities, with the question being asked in two different contexts and in two different ways. Amongst those who have completed these activities, people who self-identify as atheists seem less likely to believe they have a moral obligation to distant others than people who self-identify as religious.

Three questions are pertinent here:

a) Does this represent a real difference between atheists and religious people?

b) If so, what is its explanation (for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised if (online) atheists were disproportionately attracted to ethical egoism, moral individualism, and that like)?

c) Does it matter?

A Million Dollar Puzzle: The Newcomb Paradox

I’ve put together a new interactive activity at Philosophy Experiments. It’s here:

A Million Dollar Puzzle

If you follow me on Twitter, then you’ll probably already have played through it. Thing is, I find it genuinely baffling, so I’m not sure I have much to say about it, other than see what you think.

You’ll see at the end that people simply don’t agree about the best answer – there is nothing like a crowd-sourced consensus here.

The activity is a version of Newcomb’s Paradox, which you can read about here. Apparently, Robert Nozick once said of the puzzle, "To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear and obvious what should be done. The difficulty is that these people seem to divide almost evenly on the problem, with large numbers thinking that the opposing half is just being silly."

For what it’s worth, I’m inclined towards the response that is slightly the more popular (see final analysis page).

Get That Chip Out of My Brain!

There has of late been some discussion of free will and determinism, and particularly the relative merits of compatibilism versus incompatibilism, at various blogs. (See, for example, here, here and here.)

I must confess that I’ve not followed these discussions closely, despite having a longstanding interest in this issue (see here and here, for instance), so I don’t really have anything substantive to say about the debate, except, I guess, that I’m inclined towards the sort of incompatibilism espoused by Jerry Coyne (my hands were strangely reluctant to type that).

However, this does seem like an opportune moment to ask the readers of Talking Philosophy for their advice and opinions about an interactive activity that I put together at Philosophy Experiments, which explored some of these issues through a look at a Frankfurt Case and some other stuff. It’s here:

Get That Chip Out of My Brain!

Thing is, I programmed the activity about six months ago now, but I was never happy with it, and haven’t added it to the front page of the site (it’s been played quite a lot because of traffic that comes in via Google, etc).

Basically, my view is that most people will find the stuff about “Transfer NR” (John Martin Fischer & Mark Ravizza) confusing and philosophically suspect – it seems tricksy – and I tend to think that I ought to rewrite the whole activity, focussing on the Harry Frankfurt stuff, which I think works much better.

If anybody felt inclined to play through the activity (it’ll only take a few minutes), and let me know if they agree, disagree, or have any other thoughts, that would be really helpful. If it turns out that even a few people think it doesn’t work, then I’ll almost certainly rewrite the thing (because I think there is a good interactive exercise in there somewhere, but I’m not sure this is it).

Should You Kill the Backpacker?

I mentioned here that I was working on a new interactive activity at my Philosophy Experiments web site. Well, here it is:

Should You Kill the Backpacker?

It looks at some of the complications arising out of the Trolley Problem. More specifically, it largely relies on Judith Jarvis Thomson’s article, “The Trolley Problem”,  which appeared in The Yale Law Journal.

As yet, the activity hasn’t been subject to public scrutiny, so there are bound to be lacunae and errors in logic. Any feedback, therefore, would be much appreciated.

It’s probably worth mentioning that it’s sort of a f0llow up to another activity on the web site that deals with the same issues – but in a less sophisticated way – so if you haven’t yet seen that one, you might want to work through it first:

Should You Kill the Fat Man?