Model-free and model-based cognition in deontological and consequentialist reasoning

by cole_haus1 min read23rd Sep 20193 comments



Moral dilemmas engender conflicts between two traditions: consequentialism, which evaluates actions based on their outcomes, and deontology, which evaluates actions themselves. These strikingly resemble two distinct decision-making architectures: a model-based system that selects actions based on inferences about their consequences; and a model-free system that selects actions based on their reinforcement history. Here, I consider how these systems, along with a Pavlovian system that responds reflexively to rewards and punishments, can illuminate puzzles in moral psychology.

I find this (short) paper appealing because it:

  • Makes connections across domains
  • Unifies competing explanations within an overarching framework
  • Offers an elegant explanation of otherwise confusing phenomena e.g. the means/side-effect distinction

That said, it does still seem a bit speculative.