justice is a universal principle

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Re: justice is a universal principle

#21  Postby Zadocfish2 » Aug 20, 2017 6:40 am

Huh. I know this is an old thread, sorry for coming back to it, but... Coming into this thread, I did not expect this to be what it was about.

There's a real point to be talked about here in sociology (the thread title, not the first post). Humans form governments to ensure that everyone in a given population stays roughly in line. But, how much commonality is there to the process? Nearly all formed governments dole out punishment for murder and theft, I know, but what other things are considered universally wrong in human culture, regardless of location or time? That would be an interesting discussion. Can I re-purpose this one, or should I make a new one?
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#22  Postby zoon » Aug 20, 2017 11:34 am

Zadocfish2 wrote:Huh. I know this is an old thread, sorry for coming back to it, but... Coming into this thread, I did not expect this to be what it was about.

There's a real point to be talked about here in sociology (the thread title, not the first post). Humans form governments to ensure that everyone in a given population stays roughly in line. But, how much commonality is there to the process? Nearly all formed governments dole out punishment for murder and theft, I know, but what other things are considered universally wrong in human culture, regardless of location or time? That would be an interesting discussion. Can I re-purpose this one, or should I make a new one?

I find the trolley problem investigations interesting here, because they show at least some moral intuitions are fairly robust across very different cultures, even when they are in fact somewhat illogical. Prof Joshua Greene of Harvard lays out the problem here:
Joshua Greene wrote:
In the late 1990s, Jonathan Cohen and I initiated a line of research inspired by the Trolley Problem, which was originally posed by the philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson.

First, we have the switch dilemma: A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. You can save these five people by diverting the trolley onto a different set of tracks, one that has only one person on it, but if you do this that person will be killed. Is it morally permissible to turn the trolley and thus prevent five deaths at the cost of one? Most people say "Yes."

Then we have the footbridge dilemma: Once again, the trolley is headed for five people. You are standing next to a large man on a footbridge spanning the tracks. The only way to save the five people is to push this man off the footbridge and into the path of the trolley. Is that morally permissible? Most people say "No."

These two cases create a puzzle for moral philosophers: What makes it OK to sacrifice one person to save five others in the switch case but not in the footbridge case? There is also a psychological puzzle here: How does everyone know (or "know") that it's OK to turn the trolley but not OK to push the man off the footbridge?

(And, no, you cannot jump yourself. And, yes, we’re assuming that this will definitely work.)

Joshua Greene says “most people” make these judgments, and he has much experimental evidence, this question has been asked by researchers around the world, including Amazonian Indians for whom the question had to be reframed in terms of canoes. They still turned out to have the same moral intuitions: it’s OK to divert the canoe with 5 people in it to save their lives, even if it will mean one person being hit by the canoe and dying, but it’s not OK to shove someone into the path of a canoe to save those 5 people. This is, strictly speaking, illogical, since in both cases the person making the choice is saving 5 lives at the expense of one. I think there is now a consensus that Prof Greene’s explanation is probably the right one, that there are two systems in the brain involved in making the judgment. There is the logical, more recently evolved, system in the front of the brain, which counts numbers and comes up with the result that saving five at the expense of one makes sense (the slower system, for thinking through). Then there is an evolutionarily older system which just tells us not to do it, which is activated when it comes to pushing someone to their death (the quick and dirty system, for fast action). Evolution is not necessarily entirely logical, and most normal people have this quirk of moral thinking. Further research has shown this kind of dual process moral thinking in other cases. Continuing the quote (I think I’ve redone all the links, if not, they are the ones in the original article):

Joshua Greene wrote:As the foregoing suggests, our differing responses to these two dilemmas reflect the influences of competing responses, which are associated with distinct neural pathways. In response to both cases, we have the explicit thought that it would be better to save more lives. This response is a more controlled response (see papers in here and here) that depends on the prefrontal control network, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (see papers here and here). But in response to the footbridge case, most people have a strong negative emotional response to the proposed action of pushing the man off the bridge. Our research has identified features of this action that make it emotionally salient and has characterized the neural pathways through which this emotional response operates. (As explained in this book chapter, the neural activity described in our original 2001 paper on this topic probably has more to do with the representation of the events described in these dilemmas than with emotional evaluation of those events per se.)

Research from many labs has provided support for this theory and has, more generally, expanded our understanding of the neural bases of moral judgment and decision-making. For an overview, see this review. Recent theoretical papers by Fiery Cushman and Molly Crockett link the competing responses observed in these dilemmas to the operations of “model free” and “model based” systems for behavioral control. This is an important development, connecting research in moral cognition to research on artificial intelligence as well as research on learning and decision-making in animals.


At the end of that article (quoted below), Joshua Greene is cautious about normative questions, about what, if anything, is actually right or wrong; he says that he doesn’t think science can tell us that. It’s not obvious that anything can, but we do seem inclined to need some sense of outside normative reality, even though it’s almost certainly provided by our evolved social brains. (Quoting from earlier in Prof Greene’s article: “As I explain in Moral Tribes, I (along with many others) believe that morality is a suite of psychological devices that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation.”) I think it’s at least somewhat reassuring that our brains seem to have evolved to come up with similar moral intuitions in similar circumstances, even though we’ve almost certainly also evolved to argue about them at length.

Joshua Greene wrote:What does all of this mean for normative questions about right and wrong? As I explain in this paper and in my book, our dual-process moral brains are very good at solving some kinds of moral problems and very bad at solving others. I do not believe that science can, by itself, tell us what’s right or wrong. But I believe that scientific self-knowledge can help us make progress on distinctively modern moral problems—ones that our brains were not designed to solve. To make good moral decisions it helps to understand the tools that we bring to the job.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#23  Postby Zadocfish2 » Aug 20, 2017 5:55 pm

Huh. That is absolutely fascinating.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#24  Postby scott1328 » Aug 20, 2017 11:39 pm

I wouldn't throw the switch nor would I push the fat guy off the bridge.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#25  Postby laklak » Aug 21, 2017 3:02 am

I'd youtube it. Def going viral.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#26  Postby zoon » Aug 22, 2017 10:30 am

scott1328 wrote:I wouldn't throw the switch nor would I push the fat guy off the bridge.

If someone else had thrown the switch or pushed the fat guy, would you consider that person should be sentenced as for murder (in a jurisdiction without the death penalty)? Even without the (somewhat illogical) distinction between throwing switches and pushing people, it's of interest that most people around the world seem to share the moral intuition that killing one person intentionally in order to save five doesn't necessarily count as murder, but you may not share that intuition.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#27  Postby Thommo » Aug 22, 2017 11:27 am

I don't see why you think the distinction between throwing a switch and pushing someone in front of a train is illogical.

In reality if you push someone in front of a train and it fails to do what you expect and stop the train, it's reasonable to expect that person will be dead. If you throw a switch and the switch doesn't do what you expect and divert the train you haven't killed anyone.

There's always a problem with moral reasoning that actually leaves things out and then claims to be more sophisticated than the reasoning it purports to model. Real moral reasoning needs to be robust against the possibility of error (of judgement, or a number of other things).

There are a whole raft of other distinctions between the two situations as well.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#28  Postby scott1328 » Aug 22, 2017 1:00 pm

zoon wrote:
scott1328 wrote:I wouldn't throw the switch nor would I push the fat guy off the bridge.

If someone else had thrown the switch or pushed the fat guy, would you consider that person should be sentenced as for murder (in a jurisdiction without the death penalty)? Even without the (somewhat illogical) distinction between throwing switches and pushing people, it's of interest that most people around the world seem to share the moral intuition that killing one person intentionally in order to save five doesn't necessarily count as murder, but you may not share that intuition.


Since I did not create the situation (as described in the thought experiment) and am not the operator of the trolley, I am mere witness to the events. If I insert myself into the situation, I take on the consequences of any actions I take. I become directly responsible for a death by throwing the switch. Just as I become responsible for a death by pushing the fat man off the bridge.

If I were on a jury, I suspect I would not convict the person who did throw the switch (thus killing 1 to save 5). But, I would convict the person who pushed the person from the bridge (thus killing 1 to save 5).

But I dispute that the situations as described are equivalent. In the first situation all persons are in peril. In the second situation only the five on the track are in peril.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#29  Postby zoon » Aug 23, 2017 8:43 am

Thommo wrote:I don't see why you think the distinction between throwing a switch and pushing someone in front of a train is illogical.

In reality if you push someone in front of a train and it fails to do what you expect and stop the train, it's reasonable to expect that person will be dead. If you throw a switch and the switch doesn't do what you expect and divert the train you haven't killed anyone.

There's always a problem with moral reasoning that actually leaves things out and then claims to be more sophisticated than the reasoning it purports to model. Real moral reasoning needs to be robust against the possibility of error (of judgement, or a number of other things).

There are a whole raft of other distinctions between the two situations as well.

It’s a trolley rather than a train, and in the version which I quoted above (and then admittedly failed to follow), the five people in immediate danger are on the line ahead rather than on the trolley, so that the vehicle is lighter and could more reasonably be expected to be halted by a single body. I would guess your objection is one which is often brought up, I imagine that is why Joshua Greene adds the rider “And, yes, we’re assuming this will definitely work”. If you were effectively sure it would work, and pushing the fat man would save the other five, would that change your decision to push or not to push?

As you say, there are many differences between the two scenarios, but I’m not clear that any of them overrides the similarity, that in both cases one person is deliberately killed and the unquestioned motivation is to save five others (adequate knowhow being assumed as a part of the scenario). In both cases, if someone threw the switch or pushed the fat man just for the fun of it, that person would rightly be charged with murder, intentional killing. What other differences between the two situations besides the one you mention do you have in mind?

You say: “Real moral reasoning needs to be robust against the possibility of error (of judgement, or a number of other things).” The argument which Joshua Green is making, and which I agree with, is that moral thinking is an evolved aspect of human social behaviour (in his words, from here, "I (along with many others) believe that morality is a suite of psychological devices that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation.") Like other biological functions, it evolved to work well enough, rather than to be perfect. I certainly agree with you that we try to avoid error as far as possible, but to say that “real” moral reasoning has a hope of being totally robust against errors is to put it in some Platonic realm, rather than in this sublunary one?
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#30  Postby zoon » Aug 23, 2017 8:48 am

scott1328 wrote:
zoon wrote:
scott1328 wrote:I wouldn't throw the switch nor would I push the fat guy off the bridge.

If someone else had thrown the switch or pushed the fat guy, would you consider that person should be sentenced as for murder (in a jurisdiction without the death penalty)? Even without the (somewhat illogical) distinction between throwing switches and pushing people, it's of interest that most people around the world seem to share the moral intuition that killing one person intentionally in order to save five doesn't necessarily count as murder, but you may not share that intuition.


Since I did not create the situation (as described in the thought experiment) and am not the operator of the trolley, I am mere witness to the events. If I insert myself into the situation, I take on the consequences of any actions I take. I become directly responsible for a death by throwing the switch. Just as I become responsible for a death by pushing the fat man off the bridge.

If I were on a jury, I suspect I would not convict the person who did throw the switch (thus killing 1 to save 5). But, I would convict the person who pushed the person from the bridge (thus killing 1 to save 5).

But I dispute that the situations as described are equivalent. In the first situation all persons are in peril. In the second situation only the five on the track are in peril.

I do agree that there’s something to be said for unknowledgeable outsiders staying out of this sort of situation, we are quite likely just to make matters worse. Perhaps it should be specified that the person making the decision knows what they are doing. As in my answer to Thommo, I’m drawing attention to Joshua Green’s comment after describing the trolley problem: “And, yes, we’re assuming this will definitely work”.

You say that if you were sitting on a jury, you suspect that you would make the same distinction as most people, and convict the pusher of the fat man, but not the thrower of the switch. Like Thommo, you say that the reason for your decision is that the two situations are not equivalent. I am interested to note that the difference which you say is the crucial one, that the person on the siding is in more immediate danger than the fat man on the bridge, is quite different from the one to which Thommo refers (that pushing the fat man will definitely kill him and may not work, while throwing the switch, even if it doesn’t work, won’t kill anyone extra). I’ve heard this is a feature of this particular ethical thought experiment: many people feel strongly that pushing the fat man is wrong while throwing the switch is probably OK, but they tend to come up with very different reasons why. I would dispute your reason as well as Thommo’s. The person on the siding is not necessarily in any danger until the switch is thrown, while the fat man on the bridge is evidently standing above the trolley tracks without a high railing to prevent him from going over. If a CCTV camera showed the fat man was too close to the edge for safety, would you be less inclined to convict the person who decided to give him a final shove to save five, instead of pulling him back?
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#31  Postby scott1328 » Aug 23, 2017 8:55 pm

zoon wrote:
scott1328 wrote:
zoon wrote:
scott1328 wrote:I wouldn't throw the switch nor would I push the fat guy off the bridge.

If someone else had thrown the switch or pushed the fat guy, would you consider that person should be sentenced as for murder (in a jurisdiction without the death penalty)? Even without the (somewhat illogical) distinction between throwing switches and pushing people, it's of interest that most people around the world seem to share the moral intuition that killing one person intentionally in order to save five doesn't necessarily count as murder, but you may not share that intuition.


Since I did not create the situation (as described in the thought experiment) and am not the operator of the trolley, I am mere witness to the events. If I insert myself into the situation, I take on the consequences of any actions I take. I become directly responsible for a death by throwing the switch. Just as I become responsible for a death by pushing the fat man off the bridge.

If I were on a jury, I suspect I would not convict the person who did throw the switch (thus killing 1 to save 5). But, I would convict the person who pushed the person from the bridge (thus killing 1 to save 5).

But I dispute that the situations as described are equivalent. In the first situation all persons are in peril. In the second situation only the five on the track are in peril.

I do agree that there’s something to be said for unknowledgeable outsiders staying out of this sort of situation, we are quite likely just to make matters worse. Perhaps it should be specified that the person making the decision knows what they are doing. As in my answer to Thommo, I’m drawing attention to Joshua Green’s comment after describing the trolley problem: “And, yes, we’re assuming this will definitely work”.

You say that if you were sitting on a jury, you suspect that you would make the same distinction as most people, and convict the pusher of the fat man, but not the thrower of the switch. Like Thommo, you say that the reason for your decision is that the two situations are not equivalent. I am interested to note that the difference which you say is the crucial one, that the person on the siding is in more immediate danger than the fat man on the bridge, is quite different from the one to which Thommo refers (that pushing the fat man will definitely kill him and may not work, while throwing the switch, even if it doesn’t work, won’t kill anyone extra). I’ve heard this is a feature of this particular ethical thought experiment: many people feel strongly that pushing the fat man is wrong while throwing the switch is probably OK, but they tend to come up with very different reasons why. I would dispute your reason as well as Thommo’s. The person on the siding is not necessarily in any danger until the switch is thrown, while the fat man on the bridge is evidently standing above the trolley tracks without a high railing to prevent him from going over. If a CCTV camera showed the fat man was too close to the edge for safety, would you be less inclined to convict the person who decided to give him a final shove to save five, instead of pulling him back?

But, any person who is on trolley tracks and is unable to get out of the way of an on-coming car is in peril. The fact that the thought experiment stipulates that the person on the "siding" will die if you throw the switch indicates that the person is unable to avoid a trolley car and is in peril by virtue of that fact.. Whereas the fat man is on bridge and is in no danger unless someone pushes him.

The two situations as described are not symmetrical. Although I imagine one could tweak the knobs on this intuition pump enough to make the situations as symmetrical as you like.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#32  Postby Thommo » Aug 23, 2017 9:22 pm

zoon wrote:
Thommo wrote:I don't see why you think the distinction between throwing a switch and pushing someone in front of a train is illogical.

In reality if you push someone in front of a train and it fails to do what you expect and stop the train, it's reasonable to expect that person will be dead. If you throw a switch and the switch doesn't do what you expect and divert the train you haven't killed anyone.

There's always a problem with moral reasoning that actually leaves things out and then claims to be more sophisticated than the reasoning it purports to model. Real moral reasoning needs to be robust against the possibility of error (of judgement, or a number of other things).

There are a whole raft of other distinctions between the two situations as well.

It’s a trolley rather than a train, and in the version which I quoted above (and then admittedly failed to follow), the five people in immediate danger are on the line ahead rather than on the trolley, so that the vehicle is lighter and could more reasonably be expected to be halted by a single body. I would guess your objection is one which is often brought up, I imagine that is why Joshua Greene adds the rider “And, yes, we’re assuming this will definitely work”. If you were effectively sure it would work, and pushing the fat man would save the other five, would that change your decision to push or not to push?


Real life doesn't work this way, it's like saying "imagine that a fair coin comes up tails two thirds of the time". In the real world moral rules (and laws as well) need to be robust to the possibility of error - that's why we have phrases like "better ten guilty men walk free than one innocent man goes to jail".

By excluding an essential part of moral reasoning you won't get to good moral reasoning. To then go from that incomplete reasoning to concluding that there are no important differences between the two situations is backwards. If the theory doesn't fit the real world - change the theory.

zoon wrote:As you say, there are many differences between the two scenarios, but I’m not clear that any of them overrides the similarity, that in both cases one person is deliberately killed and the unquestioned motivation is to save five others (adequate knowhow being assumed as a part of the scenario). In both cases, if someone threw the switch or pushed the fat man just for the fun of it, that person would rightly be charged with murder, intentional killing. What other differences between the two situations besides the one you mention do you have in mind?


There are a number that are both obvious and famous:-

- Robustness against uncertainty.
- Whether the fat person is killed intentionally, or as a forseeable byproduct.
- Whether the individual acts to kill someone rather than takes inaction.
- Whether the scenario is plausible in the first place or just laughable (literally, there are lots of reports about how people will not take it seriously - as they shouldn't, it would never work, the assumptions don't make any sense).
- (Assuming you buy into utilitarianism) whether the domain of your utility function is outcomes of individual scenarios, or the outcomes of applying a particular strategy or rule - i.e. what it is that you optimise.

I expect there are more as well.

All of those have real world implications for ethics and all differ across the examples.

None of them needs to "override" anything. It doesn't matter whether you declare two things the same in all respects that are important to you. Research has shown time and again that in general people view the situations differently, and those are some of the reasons for that. There's nothing logical about ignoring those differences and insisting that the two things are "really" the same.

zoon wrote:You say: “Real moral reasoning needs to be robust against the possibility of error (of judgement, or a number of other things).” The argument which Joshua Green is making, and which I agree with, is that moral thinking is an evolved aspect of human social behaviour (in his words, from here, "I (along with many others) believe that morality is a suite of psychological devices that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation.") Like other biological functions, it evolved to work well enough, rather than to be perfect. I certainly agree with you that we try to avoid error as far as possible, but to say that “real” moral reasoning has a hope of being totally robust against errors is to put it in some Platonic realm, rather than in this sublunary one?


I didn't use the words "totally robust" or "perfect".

There's no reason to think that any "perfect" morality exists and there's certainly no reason to think that pushing fat people in front of trolleys is part of it. You can't prove this stuff any more than a divine command theorist can prove that the genocide of the old testament is perfectly moral. Even something as simple as a game of rock, paper scissors provably doesn't have a perfect strategy, it would be barmy to expect something like morality to have one, and it demands some kind of demonstration that there's the first reason to think one would exist.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#33  Postby Thommo » Aug 23, 2017 9:34 pm

A flaw of utilitarianism

The extinction of all life is the ultimate good! Why?

Well, I've decided that I'm a utilitarian. Suffering is bad, surely everyone would agree. Therefore the less suffering there is, the better the world. The best possible world has no suffering in it. But you cannot have life without having suffering. To minimise the function (which I have "logically" decided upon) of suffering therefore requires that there is no life.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#34  Postby Spinozasgalt » Aug 24, 2017 3:42 am

Was trying to remember what this thread was about and went back and read the OP.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#35  Postby Cito di Pense » Aug 24, 2017 6:28 am

Spinozasgalt wrote:Was trying to remember what this thread was about and went back and read the OP.
Image


Thommo FTW! In the upper right corner!

Thommo wrote:it's like saying "imagine that a fair coin comes up tails two thirds of the time".


Humans invented justice. The trolley problem, too. When we go, justice will be able to retire. The problem is that extinction is too good for us. I guess I should add, "from a certain perspective". Relativism is self-refuting!!!!!!! :evilgrin:

To me, relativism is when you say, "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!"

Same old shit. Prohibited vs. obliged. Anxiety vs. compulsivity. The first whines that its freedoms are being abridged, and fascism is taking over. The second argues the same. Both are called 'control freaks' by a certain sort of libertarian. None of that for me: I'm an absurdist -- I think the human condition is absurd.
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Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#36  Postby Thommo » Aug 24, 2017 7:18 am

Cito di Pense wrote:I think the human condition is absurd.


Too bloody right.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#37  Postby Spinozasgalt » Aug 24, 2017 7:44 am

Maybe yours is. Mine has pretty hats. "Obviously people with ambiguity of sex(LGBT) are now making news and are probably going to rule the roost."
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#38  Postby archibald » Aug 24, 2017 8:23 am

Spinozasgalt wrote:Maybe yours is. Mine has pretty hats. "Obviously people with ambiguity of sex(LGBT) are now making news and are probably going to rule the roost."


You're just trying to throw the switch and rerail the thread. That's immoral.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#39  Postby Spinozasgalt » Aug 24, 2017 8:28 am

I have the immorality of behaviour.
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Re: justice is a universal principle

#40  Postby archibald » Aug 24, 2017 8:30 am

zoon wrote:The argument which Joshua Green is making, and which I agree with, is that moral thinking is an evolved aspect of human social behaviour (in his words, from here, "I (along with many others) believe that morality is a suite of psychological devices that allow otherwise selfish individuals to reap the benefits of cooperation.") Like other biological functions, it evolved to work well enough, rather than to be perfect.


Sounds pretty good to me.

I think one of the problems when investigating this issue empirically is that, as someone else has already said, respondents (to trolley problems) will almost inevitably bring their own personal responses into play. For example, just saying the person on the platform (who could be pushed) is a man, or is fat, etc, will likely have some influence, and that's just one example.

I think that researchers can and should try to provide as neutral a level playing-field as possible, and I would not say their efforts are not worthwhile, but I think (as with other thought experiments generally) that we don't always take the hypotheticals fully on board.
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