The culture that is Bryan Caplan

by on August 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm in Education, Philosophy | Permalink

A new paper finds that your philosophic beliefs matter for your real world performance, or at least they predict it:

Do philosophic views affect job performance? The authors found that possessing a belief in free will predicted better career attitudes and actual job performance. The effect of free will beliefs on job performance indicators were over and above well-established predictors such as conscientiousness, locus of control, and Protestant work ethic.

The pointer comes from Vaughn Bell on Twitter.  One interpretation is that a "belief in free will" corresponds to private information about the likelihood of being successful, and wanting to take credit for that success.  A second interpretation is that the belief itself makes you more successful, by encouraging you to take responsibility for your choices.

1 todd August 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm

A philosophy of knowing the right people at the right time also helps.

2 Dirk August 21, 2010 at 4:59 pm

To be clear, since the point is prediction: aren’t one’s philosophical beliefs formed at least in part from experience? Perhaps prior personal success (in areas not on one’s CV, e.g., personal relationships) is causative of better job performance and the resulting philosophical belief is a mere artifact of that success.

3 Dennis Tuchler August 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I suppose questionable ideas can excite a person to do great things. A soldier might be more willing to take greater risks if there’s a Valhalla waiting after death. To me, free will is impossible to defend. An economist should be dubious about free will, since it makes social science impossible.

4 Bill August 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm

So, those Calvinists who believe in predestination are doomed? Or, those who end a sentence with, “It’s God’s will.” Or those who say, “Thy will be done.”

No wonder the world has never made any progress.

Or is this just voodoo philosphy that doesn’t match your own observations.

What do you think. Or is your answer predestined, too.

5 tomslee August 21, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Now that I’ve seen the result, I would love to believe in free will. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.

6 rojiani August 21, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Social science has jumped the shark.

Also, Bill, your post was incoherent. Thanks for that.

7 Dirk August 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm

According to Steven Landsburg I am denying the obvious. Interesting.

8 agnostic August 21, 2010 at 8:23 pm

No longitudinal study is needed — just look at your own life, then everybody else. Which came first — plenty of work experience and your awareness of how good you are at it, or philosophical beliefs of any kind, but here about free will or determinism?

Obviously work experience. In real life, work doesn’t need to get paid to count. Your parents employ you when you’re in elementary school doing work around the house. Your teachers give you tasks in school and assignments to complete at home. etc etc etc.

You only form your view on free will vs. determinism later in life — adolescence at the earliest, and most people probably aren’t thinking about it then either.

So work comes first, then people adopt beliefs that rationalize what happened in their prior experience.

9 Bill August 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm

@Rojiani, Here is the book these comments and observations come from: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Prof. Martin Seligman, a well known psycholigist and clinical researcher. As described in the Amazon webpage by a reviewer: About two-thirds of this book is a psychological discussion of pessimism, optimism, learned helplessness (giving up because you feel unable to change things), explanatory style (how you habitually explain to yourself why events happen), and depression, and how these affect success, health, and quality of life. Seligman supports his points with animal research and human cases. He is the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. I am sorry you did not understand my comments, which are clear, and since you did not explain your comments, I just take them for what they appear to be. Sorry for you.

10 Dirk August 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Since the subject of freewill and alcoholism came up, here’s my post on that subject:

http://ahappinessexperiment.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/im-aint-drunk-im-just-drinking/

11 Loren Gatch August 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Belief in free will is a condition of a determined existence, inshallah.

12 Bill August 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

BKarn, Your reference to “schtick”, for the other readers to follow, comes from a comment you made in an earlier post where you did not like the fact that I brought out an observation that the Austrailians ran a surplus, and were able to weather the financial crisis. My response was to point out the inanity of US commentators that to run a surplus is to take the peoples money, to which you replied that comment was “schtick”. My reply was that the economics espoused by the “peoples money” argument against running a surplus got us “schtuck” in the mud. Your comment here, siding with Riojani and saving him from his error, tries to refer to my first comment here as incoherent. I suspect your motive is not really to say it is incoherent, but just a reaction to my earlier comments.

By the way, no one is “inadvertantly” correct when they specifically refer to the academic authority that was the source of their comment. Inadvertance doesn’t work that way.

As to the first comment above: that’s just as clear and not incoherent, but I will translate it for you: we have societies that accept predeterminsim or deitic destiny yet no one can say that individuals in those societies, or the societies as a whole, are not economic performers. Just talk to a Dutch Calvinist businessman if you doubt me.

13 Dirk August 21, 2010 at 10:29 pm

dwr, this is not a debate about freewill. It is a question of whether believing in it *philosophically* is causative of good job performance. Even those
who don’t believe in it philosophically must act most of the time as if it existed. There are likely few true Jacques the Fatalist’s in this world.

Or as Hanson might say, philosophy is far.

14 dwr August 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

which is precisely why I’m going with Steven Landsburg. Believing in a world sans free will does not effect your behavior, and it’s obvious that our human world is constructed around the notion of free will.

I will say that denying free will serves as a powerful signaling mechanism. As Landsburg says, “it takes a particularly ornery disposition to deny the obvious.”

15 hartal August 21, 2010 at 11:26 pm

The question is *individual* free will. If those in oppressed conditions had always thought that they could escape their condition through their dint of their own individual efforts there would never have been historical progress. Progress has always depended on the assertion of rights by the oppressed and the oppressed have only been in position to win those rights through collective struggle which entails a rejection of the fantasy of individual free will. Have you economists ever heard of Marx?

16 Dirk August 22, 2010 at 12:45 am

On obviousness: even N himself asks: why assume “I” think instead of “it” thinks?

Nietzsche was fairly ornery, if the word ornery has any meaning, yet a pretty big proselytizer of free will. Not sure I see the intuitive connection between orneryness and free will denial.

Obviousness seems to equate to intuitiveness in this context. Is an economist seriously arguing that believing in the counter-intuitive is tantamount to denial?

17 Andrew August 22, 2010 at 4:26 am

I recently read that you should at least feign a lot of self-determination in job interviews. Employers don’t want to hear that you can’t perform miracles against all odds or that people respond to prevailing incentives. So, maybe part of it is that people who don’t have to fake it get better opportunities, though I’m sure the effect of attitude is also real. I seem to do better when I believe I can do something. I also heard one of those Silicon Valley guys say that the best startups are run by people who’ve never done it before. Ignorance is sometimes bliss when trying to accomplish the near impossible.

18 Mitch August 22, 2010 at 5:21 am

I’m sure the causality goes both ways, to varying degrees for different people in different phases of life.

This thread reminds me why I lost interest in philosophy.

19 michael webster August 22, 2010 at 11:12 am

For those who actually want to read the paper before signalling, here is the ungated version:

http://www.tylerstillman.com/pdf/stillman%20et%20al%20FW%20Workplace%20%20SPPS.pdf

20 rojiani August 23, 2010 at 12:41 am

Bill,

I’d argue further with you, but you didn’t even summarize the book yourself, you appealed to an amazon reviewer.

Let’s take another look at that: You made an argument from authority, from another authority. You are two degrees away from having an opinion.

Good day sir!

21 RCM August 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm

@Dirk: Nietzsche is not a “pretty big prosyletizer of free will.” He is not a prosyletizer of free will at all. Like Spinoza, he rejects free will from first to last, while still believing in a condition that he calls “freedom.” Is this difficult to reconcile with amor fati and eternal recurrence? Yes. But whatever N. means by “freedom,” it ain’t “free will,” which he constantly scorns.

I do take your larger point about doubting the correlation between being ornery and denying freewill.

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