Harry Frankfurt’s Hierarchical Compatibilism

– A Different Perspective on Scam Victimization – Why People Become Scam Victims

Primary Category: Philosophy of Scams

Author:
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Understanding how victimization occurs and its impact on people is essential for several reasons. First, it allows for the development of effective prevention strategies, informing potential victims about warning signs and defensive measures. Second, it helps provide appropriate support to victims, addressing emotional wounds and aiding in the recovery process.

Furthermore, understanding victimization empowers empathy, reduces stigma, and informs policy-making and legal frameworks. Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism offers a nuanced perspective on free will and moral responsibility by emphasizing the alignment of actions with higher-order desires and volitions.

Applying this theory to scam victimization illustrates how victims lose their agency under manipulation, absolving them of moral responsibility for their actions in instances of fraudulent exploitation.

Philosophy of Scams: Harry Frankfurt's Hierarchical Compatibilism - A Different Perspective on Scam Victimization - 2024

A Note About Labeling!

We often use the term ‘scam victim’ in our articles, but this is a convenience to help those searching for information in search engines like Google. It is just a convenience and has no deeper meaning. If you have come through such an experience, YOU are a Survivor! It was not your fault. You are not alone! Axios!

Aligning Desires: Using Harry Frankfurt’s Hierarchical Compatibilism to Understand Scam Victimization

Why Does Any Of This Matter?

Understanding how victimization occurs and its impact on people is essential for several reasons:

First, it allows for the development of effective prevention strategies. By comprehending the tactics used by scammers and the psychological vulnerabilities they exploit, individuals and organizations can create educational programs that inform potential victims about warning signs and defensive measures, and understand how to better support victims of these crimes. This proactive approach reduces the likelihood of victimization and helps people make more informed decisions.

Second, understanding the psychological and emotional toll of victimization is essential for providing appropriate support to victims. Victims often experience a range of negative emotions, including shame, guilt, and a diminished sense of self-worth. Recognizing these effects enables mental health professionals, support providers, and loved ones to offer targeted assistance that addresses these emotional wounds and aids in the recovery process.

Furthermore, understanding victimization empowers empathy and reduces stigma. Victims of scams often face societal judgment and may be unfairly blamed for their situation. Educating the public about the sophisticated methods used by scammers and the psychological manipulation involved can shift the narrative from blaming the victim to completely holding the perpetrators accountable. This shift in perspective encourages a more supportive environment for victims, promoting their healing and reintegration into society.

Lastly, a thorough understanding of victimization can inform policy-making and legal frameworks, ensuring that laws and regulations are in place to protect individuals from scams and provide recourse for those who have been victimized. Overall, a deep understanding of victimization is essential for creating a safer, more supportive, and just society.

First We Need To Explain This!

Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism is a philosophical theory that addresses the nature of free will and moral responsibility. It is a compatibilist view, meaning it aims to reconcile the concept of free will with determinism—the idea that all events, including human actions, are determined by prior causes.

Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism offers a nuanced perspective on free will and moral responsibility by emphasizing the alignment of one’s actions with higher-order desires and volitions. This theory is particularly relevant to understanding the experiences of scam victims. Scammers often exploit victims by targeting their immediate, first-order desires—such as financial gain or emotional connection—while undermining their second-order volitions, which reflect deeper values and long-term goals.

By creating scenarios that bypass reflective endorsement, scammers manipulate victims into actions that are misaligned with their true will. Applying Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism to scam victimization highlights the psychological strategies used by scammers and the internal conflicts faced by victims. This understanding can aid in developing better prevention and recovery strategies, empowering victims to regain control over their decisions and align their actions with their authentic desires and values.

Key Elements

1. First-Order and Second-Order Desires:

First-Order Desires: These are basic desires to perform or not perform specific actions (e.g., the desire to eat a cake or the desire not to go to work).

Second-Order Desires: These are desires about first-order desires (e.g., the desire to desire to eat healthily or the desire to desire to be diligent at work).

2. Second-Order Volitions:

A crucial aspect of Frankfurt’s theory is the concept of second-order volitions, which are second-order desires that one wants to be effective in motivating one’s actions. For example, wanting the desire to quit smoking (a first-order desire) to be the one that actually motivates you to quit.

3. The Hierarchical Model of the Will:

According to Frankfurt, an individual’s will is free when their actions are governed by the desires they want to have (second-order volitions). This means a person acts freely when they act in accordance with the desires they endorse upon reflection.

4. Personhood and Autonomy:

Frankfurt argues that the capacity to form second-order volitions is what distinguishes persons from mere animals. This capacity grants individuals autonomy and moral responsibility, as it allows them to reflect upon and endorse their desires.

Moral Responsibility

Frankfurt’s model suggests that moral responsibility does not require absolute freedom from determinism but rather the alignment of one’s actions with their higher-order desires and volitions. A person is morally responsible for their actions if those actions stem from desires they have reflectively endorsed. In this way, Frankfurt provides a framework for understanding free will and moral responsibility within a deterministic universe.

Applying Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism to the context of scam victims, we can explore scenarios where victims’ actions are influenced and controlled by scammers’ manipulation, thus emphasizing that the victims hold no moral responsibility due to the lack of control over their actions.

Here are some examples:

Example 1: The Cautious Investor

Scenario: An individual has a first-order desire to quickly grow their savings through investment opportunities. They also have a second-order volition to invest prudently and avoid high-risk ventures due to past financial mistakes.

Action: The individual receives an enticing investment opportunity from a scammer promising high returns with little risk. The scammer uses sophisticated psychological tactics and persuasive communication to create a sense of urgency and trust. Despite their higher-order desire for caution, the individual is manipulated into investing without thorough research and loses their savings.

Moral Responsibility: Under Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism, although the person’s action of investing did not align with their second-order volition to be cautious, they hold no moral responsibility due to the scammer’s manipulation. The scammer’s control over the situation prevented the individual from exercising their true will, undermining their ability to act according to their reflective, higher-order desires.

Example 2: The Lonely Individual

Scenario: A person feels lonely and has a first-order desire to seek/need companionship and emotional support. They also possess a second-order volition to build genuine, trust-based relationships and to be wary of online strangers due to previous negative experiences.

Action: This person starts communicating with someone they met online who appears to be very attentive and understanding. The scammer uses emotional manipulation, fabricates a convincing persona, and creates scenarios that exploit the person’s need for companionship. Despite their higher-order desire to be cautious, the individual is deceived into developing a trust-based relationship and sending money to the scammer who fabricates a financial emergency or other urgent need.

Moral Responsibility: In this case, the individual’s action of sending money to the scammer does not align with their second-order volition to build genuine relationships and be cautious. However, they hold no moral responsibility because the scammer’s manipulation and control over their actions undermined their ability to align their immediate desires with their deeper values. The sophisticated tactics used by the scammer effectively removed the victim’s power to act according to their true will.

These examples illustrate that, under hierarchical compatibilism, scam victims do not bear moral responsibility for their actions when those actions are the result of manipulation and control by the scammer. The scammers’ tactics prevent victims from exercising their autonomy and aligning their actions with their higher-order desires, thereby absolving them of moral responsibility for the resulting decisions and actions.

Example 3: The Unwitting Money Mule

Scenario: A person is seeking a remote job to support themselves financially and comes across an online job offer that promises good pay for minimal work. They have a first-order desire to secure income quickly and easily, but they also have a second-order volition to ensure their job is legitimate and ethical.

Action: The individual applies for and accepts the job, which involves receiving and transferring funds between various accounts. The “employer” (a scammer) convinces them that these transactions are part of normal business operations. Despite some initial doubts and their higher-order desire to verify the legitimacy of their work, the person is reassured by the scammer’s convincing explanations and fabricated documentation. Over time, they unknowingly become a money mule, laundering money for the scammer.

Moral Responsibility: Under Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism, the individual’s actions of transferring funds do not align with their second-order volition to ensure their job is legitimate and ethical. However, they hold no moral responsibility for these actions due to the scammer’s sophisticated manipulation and control. The scammer’s ability to fabricate convincing documents, provide reassurances, and create a sense of normalcy in the transactions prevented the individual from acting according to their true will and reflective desires. The manipulation and deceit effectively removed the victim’s power to act in alignment with their deeper values, absolving them of moral responsibility for unwittingly participating in illegal activities.

In this example, the scammer’s tactics ensured that the victim was unable to exercise their autonomy, highlighting how manipulation can prevent individuals from acting according to their higher-order desires and underscoring their lack of moral responsibility in such situations.

Example 4: The Romantic Money Mule

Scenario: A person seeking companionship joins an online dating site and meets someone who seems charming, trustworthy, and interested in a serious relationship. They have a first-order desire for love and connection and a second-order volition to engage in relationships that are genuine and based on mutual trust and respect.

Action: The scammer, posing as a romantic partner, gradually builds a deep emotional connection with the victim over weeks or months. After gaining the victim’s trust, the scammer begins to request small favors involving financial transactions, claiming they are due to temporary difficulties or business needs. Over time, the requests grow in complexity and scale, with the victim being asked to receive and forward money to different accounts. Believing they are helping their partner, the victim complies, unaware that they are laundering money for the scammer.

Moral Responsibility: According to Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism, the victim’s actions of transferring money do not align with their second-order volition to engage in genuine, trust-based relationships. However, the victim holds no moral responsibility because the scammer’s manipulation and control over their actions undermined their ability to align their immediate desires with their deeper values. The scammer’s skillful emotional manipulation, deceitful narratives, and creation of a false sense of intimacy prevented the victim from exercising their true will. This manipulation effectively removed the victim’s power to recognize the fraudulent nature of the relationship and the illegal activities they were involved in.

This example highlights how the emotional manipulation inherent in romance scams can obscure a victim’s ability to act according to their higher-order desires. The scammer’s control and deceit render the victim unable to align their actions with their deeper values, absolving them of moral responsibility for their unwitting participation in money laundering activities.

Summary

In summary, Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical compatibilism emphasizes that true freedom and moral responsibility arise from the alignment of one’s actions with their higher-order desires, providing a nuanced understanding of free will compatible with determinism. However, when scammers use psychological manipulation and control techniques against their victims, their victims lose their agency and are not morally responsible for their actions.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit counseling.AgainstScams.org or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit: membership.AgainstScams.org

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here: www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at www.ScamPsychology.org

SCARS Resources:

Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

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