Is a bad will a weak will? Cognitive dispositions modulate folk attributions of weakness of will

Philosophical Explorations 21 (3):350–363 (2018)
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In line with recent efforts to empirically study the folk concept of weakness of will, we examine two issues in this paper: (1) How is weakness of will attribution [WWA] influenced by an agent’s violations of best judgment and/or resolution, and by the moral valence of the agent’s action? (2) Do any of these influences depend on the cognitive dispositions of the judging individual? We implemented a factorial 2x2x2 between–subjects design with judgment violation, resolution violation, and action valence as independent variables, and measured participants’ cognitive dispositions using Frederick’s Cognitive Reflection Test [CRT]. We conclude that intuitive and reflective individuals have two different concepts of weakness of will. The study supports this claim by showing that: a) the WWA of intuitive subjects is influenced by the action’s (and probably also the commitment’s) moral valence, while the WWA of reflective subjects is not; b) judgment violation plays a small role in the WWA of intuitive subjects, while reflective subjects treat resolution violation as the only relevant trait. Data were collected among students at two different universities. All subjects (N=710) answered the CRT. A three-way ANOVA was first conducted on the whole sample and then on the intuitive and reflective groups separately. This study suggests that differences in cognitive dispositions can significantly impact the folk understanding of philosophical concepts, and thus suggests that analysis of folk concepts should take cognitive dispositions into account.

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