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June 25, 2013

Comments

weareastrangemonkey

I think this article misinterprets the findings in the Falk and Szech paper. When people are acting alone they actually determine whether a mouse dies. When acting in the group then, given the expected behaviour of others, the action of any one individual has a very low probability of causing a mouse to die or live. Consequently, the moral cost of choosing B in the group is much lower than choosing B as an individual.

The moral calculus in this experiment doesn't require some false evasion of responsibility. They are genuinely less responsible. It certainly doesn't follow through to something like voting; almost the opposite is true.

There is no immediate reward for voting selfish because it only has an effect if the voter is pivotal (they will not be). However, there is an immediate reward for voting selflessly, you get to know that you have "done the right thing" (even though it costs nothing unless you are pivotal).

Thinking through this a little further, it is irrational for people to vote selfishly if they care even a little about thinking of themselves as a "good person". Voting selfishly (say low taxes) gives you a 1 in a googolplex shot at reducing your tax rate where as voting selflessly definitely allows you to (genuinely) say that you did the right thing.

Lisa Ansell

One nation united against specified demonised groups, agreed their pain is a necessity for austerity, using ever more centralised powers to control bureacracies who have no choice. Doesn't sound good where we are, when you put itlike that. I have friends on front line at the DWP, what they are being asked to do is inhumane and the ones who know it, its basically them being coerced with the threat of the other side of the desk and the power of a bureacracy behind them. And they still know it is wrong. The damage it is doing to them is immeasurable.

Luke

Isn't this the "Yossarian problem" rather than anything to do with hierarchy? He was asked IIRC "what if everyone did that ?" To which he answered "Then I'd be pretty stupid not to."

mitoc

The mice experiment isn't just about passing responsability, but also about thinking utilitarianly: "althogh I don't like harming animals, they'll be harmed anyway, so I'd rather take my ten dollars". In my opinion, a better experiment would be telling the subjects that if they choose B, the final decision over life and death will be made by a third person.

john malpas

Killing mice is a test of morality?
If a mouse appears anywhere near our house it gets killed. And we dont need a reward.
The 'Ratsak solution' ir is called.

valledupar

"When acting in the group then, given the expected behaviour of others, the action of any one individual has a very low probability of causing a mouse to die or live. Consequently, the moral cost of choosing B in the group is much lower than choosing B as an individual."

Mr weareastrangemonkey! What is this moral cost? Since when could you divide moral responsibility? I kill someone, therefore I am 100% responsible.....A friend and I kill someone, so we are each only 50% responsible...no, we are equally 100% morally responsible....Moral responsibility isn't a pie to be proportionally divided.....especially if everyone chooses the same option.

rogerh

The interesting point may be 'what kind of organisations are set up to exploit this effect?'. I would imagine that BMW or Apple say would largely avoid the need - their main focus from the top down is making excellent products all the time. But I would imagine that government departments would tend to need this kind of pressure to act unethically. So why? Part of the reason is thair focus is not to do an excellent job - but to give the illusion of excellence whilst being underfunded or having a covert agenda. Of course failure will always emerge but 'that was then, this is now, lessons learned'. Lessons are indeed learned, you can get away with pressuring people to kill mice etc forever.

PtheP

I'll kill'em for €9 .....

matthewdownhour

I think it's rather common knowledge that mice in labs generally die. I mean, are those ten euros actually buying the mouse a happy life ever after, or are they buying it the chance to get euthanized next week in another experiment, possibly after getting cancer or being zapped a few dozen times? And I agree that using mouse-life as a moral standard has major flaws - people regularly pay money to buy mice specifically to feed to snakes. Suppose I gassed one mouse, but with my earnings caught and set free three feeder mice (or gassed them! At least it saves them being eaten alive). This would surely be a utilitarian answer to the conundrum.

But if we take the parameters as valid, I think there's another explanation - people don't want to be 'suckers' when money is involved or as too soft when animals are, and so they apply a much colder calculus when operating as a group.

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