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Workshop 'The Economy of the Soul: Rational Choice and Moral Decision-Making'

An inter-disciplinary workshop sponsored by the British Academy and the LSE Choice Group. Co-sponsored by the UCL Ethics of Risk Project, funded by the AHRC.

Location: New Academic Building (NAB) Room 104. Click here| for directions.

Organized by: Alex Voorhoeve

Registration is now closed as the conference is full.


Venue: New Academic Building (NAB) Room 104, LSE. Directions|.

Friday November 21

10:00-10:30 Registration and coffee
10:30-11:40 Ray Dolan (Wellcome Trust Neuroimaging Unit, UCL): Emotion and rationality.| Chair: Alex Voorhoeve
11:50-13:00 Jean-Francois Bonnefon (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Cognitive Science): Deductive reasoning about the consequences of moral and immoral behaviour| (with E. Billaut). Chair: Richard Bradley
13:00-13:55 Lunch: Own arrangements - see options listed below|
14:00-15:10 Ken Binmore (UCL, ELSE; LSE, Philosophy), Alex Voorhoeve (Harvard, Center for Ethics; LSE, Philosophy) and Brian Wallace (UCL, ELSE): Similarity-Based Decision-Making in Moral Decisions: Experimental Results.| Chair: Wulf Gaertner
15:20-16:30 Joshua Greene (Harvard; Psychology): The Secret Joke of Kant's Soul: Emotion and Cognition in Moral Judgment|. Chair: Jason Alexander
16:30-16:55 Coffee and tea (also in NAB 104)
17:00-18:10 S. Matthew Liao (Oxford; Philosophy): Improving moral judgments: lessons from Haidt's social intuitionist model.| Chair: Alex Voorhoeve
18:10 End of Day 1


Saturday November 22

 9:30-10:00 Juice & water (N.B. regrettably, we will NOT have coffee and tea on Saturday due to budget limitations; please bring your own sources of caffeine!)
10:00-11:10 Ariel Rubinstein (Tel Aviv/NYU; Economics): Response time studies in decision making|. Chair: Ken Binmore
11:20-12:30 Marco Mariotti (Queen Mary; Economics): One million answers to twenty questions: choosing by checklist| (with M. Mandler and P. Manzini). Chair: Marc Fleurbaey
12:30-13:25 Lunch: Own arrangements - see options listed below|  
13:30-14:40 Pierre Jacob (Institut Jean Nicod; Philosophy) and Emmanuel Dupoux(Laboratoire de Science Cognitive et Psycholinguistique; Psychology): How could an agent intentionally cause a by-product?| Chair: Richard Bradley
14:50-16:00 Marc Fleurbaey (Paris/LSE; Economics/Philosophy) and Bertil Tungodden (Norwegian School of Economics): The tyranny of aggregation versus the tyranny of non-aggregation: A theoretical puzzle or a real dilemma?| Chair: Wulf Gaertner
16:10 End

Registered participants

Joelle Abi-Rached (LSE, BIOS)
Jason Alexander (LSE, Philosophy)
Paul Anand (Open University, Economics)
Nick Baigent (Graz, Economics)
Brian Barry (LSE, Government)
Bali Baatar (Philosophy, LSE)
Ken Binmore (UCL, ELSE; LSE, Philosophy)
Patrick Blanchenay (LSE, Economics)
David Munk Bogballe (Philosophy, LSE)
Jean-Francois Bonnefon (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Cognitive Science)
Luc Bovens (LSE, Philosophy)
Richard Bradley (LSE, Philosophy)
Conrad Burchardi (LSE, Economics)
Juliana Cardinale (LSE, Forum for European Philosophy)
Florian Cova (Paris, Philosophy)
Frank Cowell (LSE, Economics)
Tom Cunningham (LSE, Economics)
Greg Davies (Barclays Wealth, Behavioural Finance)
Malte Doehne (Economics, Witten/Herdecke)
Paul Dolan (Economics, Imperial)
Ray Dolan (Wellcome Institute, UCL)
Mareile Drechsler (Philosophy, LSE)
Emmanuel Dupoux (Laboratoire de Science Cognitive et Psycholinguistique)
Ben Ferguson (Philosophy, LSE)
Marc Fleurbaey (Paris/LSE, Economics/Philosophy)
Wulf Gaertner (Osnabrueck, Economics)
Dionysius Glycopantis (City University, London, Economics)
Joshua Greene (Harvard, Psychology)
Faheem Haider (Government, LSE)
Conrad Heilmann (LSE, Philosophy)
Catherine Herfeld (Witten/Herdecke, Economics and Philosophy)
David Holly (UCL, Philosophy)
Dieneke Hubbeling (Philosophy, UEL)
Mats Ingelstrom (Philosophy, LSE)
Pierre Jacob (Institut Jean Nicod, Philosophy)
Ryan McKay (Zurich, Economics)
Ariel Kernberg (Philosophy, Institute for European Studies)
Sebastian Kodritsch (LSE, Economics)
Matthew Liao (Oxford, Philosophy
John Jacob Lyons
Marco Mariotti (Queen Mary, Economics)
Guy Mayraz (LSE, Economics)
Luke Milner (LSE, Economics)
Ivan Moscati (LSE, CPNSS)
Veronique Munoz-Darde (Philosophy, UCL)
Ittay Nissan (LSE, Philosophy)
Milena Nuti (Birkbeck, Philosophy)
Adam Oliver (LSE, Health)
Shepley Orr (UCL, Civil Engineering & Centre for Philosophy, Justice & Health)
Stefan Penczynski (LSE, Economics)
Alonso Perez-Kakabadse (LSE, Economics)
Dean Peters (Philosophy, LSE)
Ariel Rubinstein (Tel Aviv/NYU, Economics)
Maurice Salles (Caen, Economics)
Andrea Sangiovanni (KCL, Philosophy)
Inge Schiermacher (Roskilde, Philosophy and Social Science)
Esha Senchaudhuri (LSE, Philosophy)
Hamid Seyedsayamdost (LSE, Philosophy)
Kai Spiekermann (Warwick, Philosophy)
Charitini Stavropoulou (LSE, Economics)
Jacob Stegenga (UCSD, Philosophy)
Katie Steele (LSE, Philosophy)
Bill Taiwo
Caroline Thomas (LSE, Economics)
Bertil Tungodden (Norwegian School of Economics)
Giuseppe Ugazio (Zurich, Economics)
Mischa Van den Brandhof (LSE, Philosophy)
Jean-Michel Vette (LSE, Philosophy)
Ivaylo Vlaev (UCL, Psychology)
Alex Voorhoeve (LSE, Philosophy & Harvard, Center for Ethics)
Brian Wallace (UCL, ELSE)
James Wilson (Philosophy, UCL)
Jo Wolff (UCL, Philosophy)
James Wong (LSE, Government)
Kishan Yerubandi (LSE, Philosophy)


R J Dolan (Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL) 'Emotion and Rationality'

Emotion and decision making are strongly related, with the idea that emotions corrupt rational decision-making being as popular as it is erroneous. Normative accounts of decision making invoke the idea that we choose in order to optimise the hedonic value, or utility, of expected outcomes. Thus, a decision maker faced with a choice between a set of options should weigh the utility of each choice and choose an option that offers the maximal expected utility. I this talk I will consider from a computational and empirical neuroscience perspective how expected outcomes for reward shape instrumental behaviour, highlighting a critical role for the striatum. I will then consider how emotional mechanisms, possibly mediated via Pavlovian learning, provide critical motivational information that can be exploited by other decision making systems. In some instances these low level influences seem to provide a basis for classical instances of violations of rationality.

Jean-François Bonnefon (with Eric Billaut). Deductive reasoning about the consequences of moral and immoral behaviour

We present reasoners with linguistically ambiguous syllogisms of the type "if A then C, if B then C, A" and record the degree to which they endorse the logical conclusion C. The syllogisms are ambiguous because they allow the conjunctive interpretation "if A and B then C", from which C no longer follows. We construct just and unjust syllogisms by manipulating the contents of A, B, and C. Just syllogisms link morally right actions A, B, to good consequences C, or morally wrong actions A, B, to bad consequences C. Unjust syllogisms link morally right actions, A, B, to bad consequences C, or morally wrong actions A, B, to good consequences C. For each reasoner, we measure the personality trait known as the Belief in a Just World (BJW), i.e., the need to believe that the world is a place where people get what they deserve, and deserve what they get. Two experiments demonstrate that BJW moderates the differential endorsement of just and unjust syllogisms, and that this effect is due to an emotional regulation strategy. Some people are upset by arguments about immoral behavior being rewarding (or moral behavior being punished), and they may engage in motivated rather than logical reasoning, to find a way out of these arguments, and to restore their mood.

Alex Voorhoeve, Brian Wallace and Ken Binmore. Similarity-Based Reasoning in Moral Decision-Making: Experimental Results

Amos Tversky and Ariel Rubinstein hypothesise that some significant share of subjects use a heuristic known as similarity-based decision-making (SBDM) in choices between multi-dimensional alternatives. We investigated whether this hypothesis holds in decisions involving the allocation of health care resources, in which subjects must choose between saving a greater number of people from smaller harm, or a smaller number of people from greater harm. We tried to construct a set of pairwise choices in which the harms from which people could be saved would appear similar, while the number of people saved would appear dissimilar. In such cases, similarity-based decision-making would predict that people would give little weight to the similar dimension (harm) and base their decision on the dissimilar dimension (number of people saved), thereby saving the greater number of people from a lesser harm. These choices were so constructed, however, that so doing would help the better off at a cost in total utility. Such choices therefore would fall outside the range of considered moral preferences, which we assumed to lie between utilitarianism and maximin. We investigated whether subjects held preferences within this range when not using the similarity heuristic by presenting them with choices in which both harm and the number of people saved were dissimilar. A pattern of choice supporting the SBDM hypothesis would therefore be one in which there is a significant share of subjects which (i) tend to favour the better off at a cost in total utility in the 'similarity' choices and (ii) tend to express preferences somewhere in the utilitarian to maximin range in the 'non-similarity' choices. We will present a preliminary analysis of the data in our talk.

Joshua Greene. The Secret Joke of Kant's Soul: Emotion and Cognition in Moral Judgment

According to utilitarian philosophers like John Stuart Mill, morality is ultimately about promoting the "greater good." According to deontological philosophers like Immanuel Kant, right and wrong is ultimately a matter of respecting rights and fulfilling duties that may trump the greater good. Drawing on a range of studies, both neuroscientific and behavioral, I will argue that the longstanding tension between utilitarian and deontological philosophy ultimately reflects a more fundamental tension between separate, and in some cases competing, systems in the brain. More specifically, I will argue that characteristically deontological judgments are driven by intuitive emotional responses (based in the medial prefrontal cortex, etc.) while characteristically consequentialist judgments are driven by more controlled cognitive processes (based in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, etc.).

Matthew Liao. Improving moral judgments: lessons from Haidt's social intuitionist model

In a series of work, Jonathan Haidt and his collaborators have defended the Social Intuitionist Model (SIM), according to which moral judgments arise predominantly as a result of the intuitive process, and the primary role of reasoning appears not to generate moral judgments, but to provide a post hoc basis for justification. In the extensive literature on the SIM, both the SIM's supporters and its critics seem to grant that if role of reasoning were primarily to provide post hoc justification, then there would be something wrong with the reasoning process. In this paper, I argue that post hoc justification is as valid as other forms of epistemic justification.

Ariel Rubinstein. Response Time and Decision Theory

Neuroeconomics is examined critically using data on the response times of subjects who were asked to express their preferences in the context of the Allais Paradox and some other decision problems. Different patterns of choice are found among the fast and slow responders. This suggests that we try to identify types of economic agents by the time they take to make their choices. Nevertheless, it is argued that it is far from clear if and how Neuroeconomics will change Economics.

Marco Mariotti. A million answers to twenty questions: choosing by checklist

Several decision models in marketing science and psychology assume that a decision maker chooses by proceeding sequentially through a checklist of desirable properties. These models are contrasted to the utility maximization model of rationality in economics. We show on the contrary that the two approaches are nearly equivalent. Moreover, the length of the shortest checklist as a proportion of the number of an agent's indifference classes shrinks to 0 (at an exponential rate) as the number of indifference classes increases. Checklists therefore provide a rapid procedural basis for utility maximization.

Pierre Jacob (Institut Jean Nicod, Philosophy) and Emmanuel Dupoux (Laboratoire de Science Cognitive et Psycholinguistique). 'How could an agent intentionally cause a by-product?

The experimental philosopher Josh Knobe has recently reported evidence that subjects are significantly more likely to judge that an agent intentionally caused a predictable side-effect of his action if the latter was negative (e.g. harm) rather than positive (e.g. help). On this basis, he has argued that judgments of intentionality are generated by the moral evaluation of the agent's act and that the folk (or naïve) psychological concept of intentional action is therefore dependent on (or even constituted by) moral judgment. We disagree with Knobe's general conclusion that the capacity for moral judgment is constitutive of our mastery of the naïve psychological concept of
intentional action. We argue that the moral evaluation of an agent's act is not necessary for judging that an agent intentionally caused a predictable by-product of his action. In the process, we discuss Machery's (2008) counter-example to Knobe's view and his competing trade-off hypothesis. We further discuss Mallon's (2008) counter-example to Machery's trade-off hypothesis. We examine neutral cases which are hard to reconcile with either Knobe's or Machery's hypotheses and offer an account that is immune to Mallon's counter-example.

Frank Cowell (LSE, Economics), Marc Fleurbaey (Paris/LSE, Economics/Philosophy) and Bertil Tungodden (Norwegian School of Economics) 'The tyranny of aggregation versus the tyranny of non-aggregation: A theoretical puzzle or a real dilemma?'

It is hard to avoid simultaneously the tyranny of non-aggregation implied by the maximin criterion (a small gain to the worst-off always trumps a loss to the best-off) and the tyranny of aggregation implied by standard non-maximin social welfare functions (any sacrifice to the worst-off can be justified by a small gain to sufficiently many best-off individuals). But the proof that there is a dilemma involves arbitrarily large populations (Fleurbaey and Tungodden 2007). One may then wonder if this is a purely theoretical problem or if it has some relevance to a world like ours. We ask respondents to define the trade-offs they are willing to make between the worst-off and the best-off, and compute the size of the population that would be required to render their views inconsistent. This paper also sheds new light on inequality aversion in the population.

Lunch options

LSE has a number of venues open on Friday (but not Saturday!):

There are many sandwich, sushi and Pasta places nearby, many on Kingsway. On Friday, these will all be open. On Saturday, at least the following are open:

  • EAT (105 Kingsway) a shop for sandwiches, soups and salads.
  • Belgo Bierodrome (67 Kingsway) for hot lunch.