Andrew E. Monroe and Dominic Ysidron
AbstractFree will is often appraised as a necessary input to for holding others morally or legally responsible for misdeeds. Recently, however,Clark and colleagues (2014), argued for the opposite causal relationship. They assert that moral judgments and the desire to punish motivate people’s belief in free will. In three experiments—two exact replications (Studies 1 & 2b) and one close replication(Study 2a)we seek to replicate these findings. Additionally, in a novel experiment (Study 3) we test a theoretical challenge derived from attribution theory, which suggests that immoral behaviors do not uniquely influence free will judgments. Instead, our non-violation model argues that norm deviations, of any kind—good, bad, or strange—cause people to attribute more free will to agents, and attributions of free will are explained via desire inferences.Across replication experiments we found no evidence for the original claim that witnessing immoral behavior causes people to increase their belief in free will, though we did replicate the finding that people attribute more free will to agents who behave immorally compared to a neutral control (Studies 2a & 3). Finally, our novel experiment demonstrated broad support for our norm-violation account, suggesting that people’s willingness to attribute free will to others is malleable, but not because people are motivated to blame.Instead, this experiment shows that attributions of free will are best explained by people’s expectations for norm adherence, and when these expectations are violated people infer that an agent expressed their free will to do so.
From the Discussion Section:
Together these findings argue for a non-moral explanation for free will judgments with norm-violation as the key driver. This account explains people’s tendency to attribute more free will to behaving badly agents because people generally expect others to follow moral norms, and when they don’t, people believe that there must have been a strong desire to perform the behavior. In addition, a norm-violation account is able to explain why people attribute more free will to agents behaving in odd or morally positive ways. Any deviation from what is expected causes people to attribute more desire and choice (i.e., free will)to that agent.Thus our findings suggest that people’s willingness to ascribe free will to others is indeed malleable, but considerations of free will are being driven by basic social cognitive representations of norms, expectations, and desire. Moreover, these data indicate that when people endorse free will for themselves or for others, they are not making claims about broad metaphysical freedom. Instead, if desires and norm-constraints are what affect ascriptions of free will, this suggests that what it means to have (or believe) in free willis to be rational (i.e., making choices informed by desires and preferences) and able to overcome constraints.
A preprint can be found here.