The Lesson of Bypassing

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (4):599-619 (2013)
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The idea that incompatibilism is intuitive is one of the key motivators for incompatibilism. Not surprisingly, then philosophers who defend incompatibilism often claim that incompatibilism is the natural, commonsense view about free will and moral responsibility (e.g., Pereboom 2001, Kane Journal of Philosophy 96:217–240 1999, Strawson 1986). And a number of recent studies find that people give apparently incompatibilist responses in vignette studies. When participants are presented with a description of a causal deterministic universe, they tend to deny that people are morally responsible in that universe. Although this suggests that people are intuitive incompatibilists, Eddy Nahmias and Dylan Murray, in a recent series of important papers, have developed an important challenge to this interpretation. They argue that people confuse determinism with bypassing, the idea that one’s mental states lack causal efficacy. Murray and Nahmias present new experiments that seem to confirm the bypassing hypothesis. In this paper, we use structural equation modeling to re-examine the issue. We find support instead for an incompatibilist explanation of the bypassing results, i.e., incompatibilist judgments seem to cause bypassing judgments. We hypothesize that this phenomenon occurs because people think of decisions as essentially indeterministic; thus, when confronted with a description of determinism they tend to think that decisions do not even occur. We provide evidence for this in three subsequent studies which show that many participants deny that people make decisions in a deterministic universe; by contrast, most participants tend to allow that people add numbers in a deterministic universe. Together, these studies suggest that bypassing results don’t reflect a confusion, but rather the depth of the incompatibilist intuition

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Author Profiles

Shaun Nichols
Cornell University
David Rose
Stanford University