For Whom Does Determinism Undermine Moral Responsibility? Surveying the Conditions for Free Will Across Cultures

Frontiers in Psychology 10 (2019)
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Abstract

Philosophers have long debated whether, if determinism is true, we should hold people morally responsible for their actions since in a deterministic universe, people are arguably not the ultimate source of their actions nor could they have done otherwise if initial conditions and the laws of nature are held fixed. To reveal how non-philosophers ordinarily reason about the conditions for free will, we conducted a cross-cultural and cross-linguistic survey (N = 5,268) spanning twenty countries and sixteen languages. Overall, participants tended to ascribe moral responsibility whether the perpetrator lacked sourcehood or alternate possibilities. However, for American, European, and Middle Eastern participants, being the ultimate source of one’s actions promoted perceptions of free will and control as well as ascriptions of blame and punishment. By contrast, being the source of one’s actions was not particularly salient to Asian participants. Finally, across cultures, participants exhibiting greater cognitive reflection were more likely to view free will as incompatible with causal determinism. We discuss these findings in light of documented cultural differences in the tendency toward dispositional versus situational attributions.

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Author Profiles

Renatas Berniūnas
Vilnius University
Vilius Dranseika
Jagiellonian University
Florian Cova
University of Geneva
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References found in this work

Freedom and Resentment.Peter Strawson - 1962 - Proceedings of the British Academy 48:187-211.
Philosophy Within its Proper Bounds.Edouard Machery - 2017 - Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
An Essay on Free Will.Peter Van Inwagen - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1969 - Journal of Philosophy 66 (23):829-839.
Living Without Free Will.Derk Pereboom - 2001 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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