Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Psychosemantics of Free Riding: Dissecting the Architecture of a Moral Concept

In this paper, Delton, Cosmides, Guemo, Robertson and Tooby test whether the mind has an evolved mechanism that allows for the identification of free riders.  The hypothesis of an evolutionary sanctioned free rider detection mechanism is tested against three competing hypotheses: the return rate rule, which identifies free riders on the basis of their contributions regardless of extenuating circumstances such as illness or incompetence; the moral violator rule, which sees the category of free rider as continuous with other moral violations; and the arbitrary categorisation hypothesis, which argues for a post-hoc identification of free riders as part of the mind's general tendency to construct classificatory schemas on the basis of perceived differences.  The authors maintain, on the basis of experimental results, that the evidence best matches the supposition that the mind has an innate free rider detection mechanism. 

A discussion of how cultural context and socio-political triggers activate who gets classed as a free rider and who doesn't would have been appreciated (given the sensitivity and variability of the appellation), but the paper retains its value as an exposition on an important concept.     


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