A blog about belief

Coersion and motivated reasoning

In Philosophy, Science on June 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm

The argumentative theory of reasoning could shed light on a scenario that I hinted at in my first post about freedom.  Suppose that you are about to be presented with two options, 1 and 2, and that you have decided to choose option 1.  Person B, not knowing this, attempts to coerce you into choosing that option.  You change your decision to 2, even though it is the less attractive option, in order to in some way assert your independence from B.  The argumentative theory could offer the explanation that reasoning about this situation would lead you to choose 2 if you think it would be easier to justify that choice than it would be to respond to accusations that you were too-easily swayed by B.

This decision isn’t necessarily irrational.  It may be that your choosing option 1 after the attempt at coercion really would damage others’ opinions of you, or that it would encourage B to attempt further coercions in the future.  Presumably, the greater the difference in utility between 1 and 2 the less inclined you will be to change your decision, not least because other people will be less likely to accuse you of being manipulated if the choice you made is obviously the better one.

I don’t have experimental evidence to back up this example, though there may be some that I don’t know about.  If it proves true, it might give us some insight into what it is we desire when we desire to be independent.  It suggests a way of thinking about independence that avoids unclear talk about choice, if not one that would serve particularly well in a definition of freedom.

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