Responsibility Is Near

We are more willing to let folks off the hook because “my atoms or my brain made me do it” in far than near mode:

A deterministic universe [is one] in which “Every decision is completely caused by what happened before the decision—given the past, each decision has to happen the way that it does.” … One group of participants was asked whether it is possible for anyone to be morally responsible for their actions in such a universe. These participants tended to say that it is not possible to be morally responsible in that universe. That question about moral responsibility is, of course, pitched at an abstract level.

Another group of participants was presented instead with a concrete case of a man who killed his family. That provoked a much different response. When presented with a concrete case of man performing a reprehensible action, people tended to say that the man was fully morally responsible for his actions, even when set in a deterministic universe. Indeed, concrete cases of bad behavior lead people to attribute responsibility, even when the action is caused by a neurological disorder. …

People are pulled in different directions because different mental mechanisms are implicated in different conditions. (more)

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