June 13, 2020

Professor Procrastinate

Source: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism-possibilism-ethics/

Professor Procrastinate is asked to review a graduate student’s paper, soon to be given as a job talk. Procrastinate can ⟨agree to review the paper & review the paper⟩, which would result in the student receiving a first-rate job offer. Procrastinate can also ⟨agree to review the paper & not review the paper⟩, which would result in the student receiving no job offer. Finally, Procrastinate can ⟨decline to review the paper & not review the paper⟩, which would result in the student asking someone else, getting mediocre comments, and receiving a second-rate job offer. Now, if Procrastinate were to ⟨agree to review the paper⟩, she would later freely <not review it>.

The value of the act-sets that Procrastinate can perform are ranked from best to worst as follows.

  • X.⟨a⟩⟨a⟩ agree to review the paper and ⟨b⟩⟨b⟩ review the paper
  • Y.⟨∼a⟩⟨∼a⟩ decline to review the paper and ⟨∼b⟩⟨∼b⟩ not review the paper
  • Z.⟨a⟩⟨a⟩ agree to review the paper and ⟨∼b⟩⟨∼b⟩ not review the paper

Furthermore, Procrastinate would ⟨∼b⟩⟨∼b⟩ regardless of whether she would ⟨a⟩⟨a⟩. In other words, the following counterfactuals are true.

  1. If Procrastinate were to ⟨a⟩⟨a⟩, she would ⟨Z⟩⟨Z⟩.
  2. If Procrastinate were to ⟨∼a⟩⟨∼a⟩, she would ⟨Y⟩⟨Y⟩.

On a rough definition, according to actualism, Procrastinate is obligated to decline to review the paper because what would actually happen if she were to decline is better than what would actually happen if she were to agree to review the paper. By contrast, according to possibilism, Procrastinate is obligated to agree to review the paper because doing so is part of the best series of possible actions that Procrastinate can perform over her life. Now that we’ve covered how these views generally come apart, we will focus on the more precise formulations of these views in subsequent sections. It should also be noted that counterfactuals like (1) and (2) are assumed to be true at least partly in virtue of Procrastinate’s imperfect moral character. However, such counterfactuals can also be true as a result of an agent’s ignorance, as a result of lacking the dexterity to perform an act, and as a result of an agent’s inability to comprehend some future act

This video has a nice explanation

Updated Jul, 03 2020


#Thought-experiments #Actualism #Possibilism #Pragmatism