Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Experimental Philosophy with Bagels and Coffee: WWKD?

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

I'm sitting in the Tulane Law School multi-purpose room, in the process of paying off my debt toBagel Professor Eric Dannenmaier arising out of the recent World Series.  The deal was that if the Tigers won, Eric would serve breakfast to my morning class, and if the Cardinals won, I would do the same for his.  As you may recall, the good guys lost.

Kant_1So when I saw Larry Solum's post this morning about a new article on experimental philosophy, and I recalled Frank Pasquale's interest in the subject, it occurred to me that I had recently faced an experiment in deontology versus consequentialism.  Eric and I decided that rather than simply serve breakfast to one or the other of the classes we would make the bagels and coffee available to all of our classes.

Now here's the duty versus consequence question:  you are going to announce this windfall to the class that wasn't going to get served.  It also happens to be the morning that you are passing out the teaching evaluation forms.  Do you announce the bagels and coffee before you pass out the evaluations, or after they are filled out and collected?  WWKD?

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I don't think asking what Kevin Federline or K-Fed would do always leads to the right ethical answer, but OK. (Nice photo of Eric Dannenmaeir, though.)

Posted by: Childress | Nov 29, 2006 9:14:21 AM

Ahh, the eternal dilemma. I think this hypothetical shows some problems with a "duty-based" approach. Consider the following:

1) A prof gives out the bagels after, because he fears influencing the students.
2) Same action, but only because the prof fears the students will suspect they are being bribed and punish him accordingly on the evaluations. If he knew the "bribery" would work, he'd go right ahead with it.

So I guess Kant would try to make sure he's like Prof. 1.

But even though I know Prof 1 is better, I don't know if there's much evidence either *action* is better...after all, they're the same. I do think it's better for society to have more Prof. 1's, and it's objectively better to be Prof. 1. But I don't know if I can attribute that evaluation to the fact that Prof. 1 acted out of duty here, or, rather, because dispositions like Prof. 1's make him a better person and such persons create better consequences for all (with both the virtue- and consequentialist-grounds for evaluation here being independent of one another.).

And from philosophy to sociology: I wonder if John Noonan might consider a post-class bagel a "tip" (ala his book Bribes). But I guess it couldn't be, because you don't know what they said! Along those lines, I have to recommend the typology of graft in Susan Rose-Ackerman's book on corruption.

Posted by: Frank | Nov 29, 2006 11:46:02 AM

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