Moral philosophers, legal theorists, and psychologists who study moral judgment are remarkably agreed in prescribing how to blame people. A blameworthy act occurs when an actor intentionally, negligently or recklessly causes foreseen, or foreseeable, harmful consequences without any compelling mitigating or extenuating circumstances. This simple formulation conveniently forestalls intricacies about how to construe concepts such as will, causation, foresight, and mitigation, but putting that aside for the moment, it seems fair to say that blame “professionals” share compatible conceptions of how (...) to make fair and rational blame ascriptions. Blame “amateurs,” on the other hand, sometimes stretch these rational prescriptions for blame beyond the breaking point. Numerous psychological studies on blame and responsibility, as well as the perplexing outcomes of high-profile criminal and civil trials, demonstrate that everyday blamers are capable of violating virtually every rational prescription that moral philosophers, legal scholars, and rational decision theorists hold dear. (shrink)
Actions that are intended to produce harmful consequences can fail to achieve their desired effects in numerous ways. We refer to action sequences in which harmful intentions are thwarted as deviant causal chains. The culpable control model of blame (CCM)is a useful tool for predicting and explaining the attributions that observers make of the actors whose harmful intentions go awry. In this paper, we describe six types of deviant causal chains; those in which: an actor’s attempt is obviated by the (...) intervention of another person or the environment; the intended effects could not have been produced regardless of the actor’s behavior; other causes diminish the actor’s causal role; the actor brings about foreseen but undesired consequences as a result of pursuing his or her focal goal; the focal action produces a chain of increasingly remote causal events; and the actor derives unforeseen benefits from his or her nefarious actions. A basic assumption of the CCM in these cases is that attributions for the participants’ actions will depend on positive and negative evaluations of their intentions and behaviors. We describe empirical findings that are consistent with this assumption, and predict other findings for causal deviance phenomena that have not yet been investigated empirically. (shrink)
Knobe argues in his target article that asymmetries in intentionality judgments can be explained by the view that concepts such as intentionality are suffused with moral considerations. We believe that the “culpable control” model of blame can account both for Knobe's side effect findings and for findings that do not involve side effects.
Causation is one of philosophy's most venerable and thoroughly-analyzed concepts. However, the study of how ordinary people make causal judgments is a much more recent addition to the philosophical arsenal. One of the most prominent views of causal explanation, especially in the realm of harmful or potentially harmful behavior, is that unusual or counternormative events are accorded privileged status in ordinary causal explanations. This is a fundamental assumption in psychological theories of counterfactual reasoning, and has been transported to philosophy by (...) Hitchcock and Knobe (2009). A different view--the basis of the culpable control model of blame (CCM)--is that primary causal status is accorded to behaviors that arouse negative evaluative reactions, including behaviors that stem from nefarious motives, negligence or recklessness, a faulty character, or behaviors that lead to harmful or potentially harmful consequences. This paper describes four empirical studies that show consistent support for the CCM. (shrink)
Many philosophical theories of causation are egalitarian, rejecting a distinction between causes and mere causal conditions. We sought to determine the extent to which people’s causal judgments discriminate, selecting as causes counternormal events—those that violate norms of some kind—while rejecting non-violators. We found significant selectivity of this sort. Moreover, priming that encouraged more egalitarian judgments had little effect on subjects. We also found that omissions are as likely as actions to be judged as causes, and that counternormative selectivity appears to (...) apply equally to actions and omissions. (shrink)
An extensive body of research suggests that the distinction between doing and allowing plays a critical role in shaping moral appraisals. Here, we report evidence from a pair of experiments suggesting that the converse is also true: moral appraisals affect doing/allowing judgments. Specifically, morally bad behavior is more likely to be construed as actively ‘doing’ than as passively ‘allowing’. This finding adds to a growing list of folk concepts influenced by moral appraisal, including causation and intentional action. We therefore suggest (...) that the present finding favors the view that moral appraisal plays a pervasive role in shaping diverse cognitive representations across multiple domains. (shrink)
Recently, a number of authors—including Hitchcock & Knobe (2009) and Alicke, et al. (in press)—have argued that normative considerations are ubiquitous in causal cognition. In this paper, we first argue that these claims depend on a very large inferential leap that is not warranted either by the empirical data or on theoretical grounds. We then provide positive reasons—based both in theory and two novel experiments that we conducted—to think that the influence of normative considerations on causal cognition is not nearly (...) as widespread as has been claimed by these authors. Norms can play a significant cognitive role, but their influence is not ubiquitous. (shrink)
This paper extends the account of actual causation offered by Halpern and Pearl . We show that this account yields the wrong judgment in certain classes of cases. We offer a revised definition that incorporates consideration of defaults, typicality, and normality. The revised deﬁnition takes actual causation to be both graded and comparative. We then apply our deﬁnition to a number of cases.
This article describes research pursued by members of the McDonnell Collaborative on Causal Learning. A number of members independently converged on a similar idea: one of the central functions served by claims of actual causation is to highlight patterns of dependence that are highly portable into novel contexts. I describe in detail how this idea emerged in my own work and also in that of the psychologist Tania Lombrozo. In addition, I use the occasion to reflect on the nature of (...) interdisciplinary collaboration in general and on the interaction between philosophy and psychology in particular. (shrink)
Much of the philosophical literature on causation has focused on the concept of actual causation, sometimes called token causation. In particular, it is this notion of actual causation that many philosophical theories of causation have attempted to capture.2 In this paper, we address the question: what purpose does this concept serve? As we shall see in the next section, one does not need this concept for purposes of prediction or rational deliberation. What then could the purpose be? We will argue (...) that one can gain an important clue here by looking at the ways in which causal judgments are shaped by people‘s understanding of norms. (shrink)
It has often been suggested that people’s ordinary capacities for understanding the world make use of much the same methods one might find in a formal scientific investigation. A series of recent experimental results offer a challenge to this widely-held view, suggesting that people’s moral judgments can actually influence the intuitions they hold both in folk psychology and in causal cognition. The present target article distinguishes two basic approaches to explaining such effects. One approach would be to say that the (...) relevant competencies are entirely non-moral but that some additional factor (conversational pragmatics, performance error, etc.) then interferes and allows people’s moral judgments to affect their intuitions. Another approach would be to say that moral considerations truly do figure in workings of the competencies themselves. It is argued that the data available now favor the second of these approaches over the first. (shrink)
When scientists are trying to uncover the causes of a given outcome, they often make use of statistical information. Thus, if scientists wanted to know whether there was a causal relationship between attending philosophy lectures and learning philosophy, they might randomly assign students to either attend or not attend certain lectures and then check to see whether those who attended the lectures ended up learning more philosophy than those who did not.
It has long been known that people’s causal judgments can have an impact on their moral judgments. To take a simple example, if people conclude that a behavior caused the death of ten innocent children, they will therefore be inclined to regard the behavior itself as morally wrong. So far, none of this should come as any surprise. But recent experimental work points to the existence of a second, and more surprising, aspect of the relationship between causal judgment and moral (...) judgment. It appears that the relationship can sometimes go in the opposite direction. That is, it appears that our moral judgments can sometimes impact our causal judgments. (Hence, we might first determine that a behavior is morally wrong and then, on that basis, arrive at the conclusion that it was the cause of various outcomes.). (shrink)
Folk theories—untutored people’s (often implicit) theories about various features of the world—have been fashionable objects of inquiry in psychology for almost two decades now (e.g., Hirschfeld and Gelman 1994), and more recently they have been of interest in experimental philosophy (Nichols 2004). Folk theories of psy- chology, physics, biology, and ethics have all come under investigation. Folk meta- physics, however, has not been as extensively studied. That so little is known about folk metaphysics is unfortunate for (at least) two reasons. (...) First, folk metaphysics is almost certainly implicit, and it is likely to be our default way of thinking about metaphysical problems. Moreover, one’s metaphysical commitments can have pro- found consequences—in scientiﬁc, religious, and ethical contexts, for example. Thus, folk metaphysics ought to be dragged out into the open and exposed to criticism. As Peirce eloquently remarked (1994, 1.129; see also 1994, 7.579). (shrink)
Using structural equations and directed graphs, Christopher Hitchcock (2007a) proposes a theory specifying the circumstances in which counterfactual dependence of one event e on another event c is necessary and sufficient for c to count as an actual cause of e. In this paper, we argue that Hitchcock is committed to a widely-endorsed folk attribution desideratum (FAD) for theories of actual causation. We then show experimentally that Hitchcock’s theory does not satisfy the FAD, and hence, it is in need of (...) revision. (shrink)
Both philosophers and psychologists have argued for the existence of distinct kinds of explanations, including teleological explanations that cite functions or goals, and mechanistic explanations that cite causal mechanisms. Theories of causation, in contrast, have generally been unitary, with dominant theories focusing either on counterfactual dependence or on physical connections. This paper argues that both approaches to causation are psychologically real, with different modes of explanation promoting judgments more or less consistent with each approach. Two sets of experiments isolate the (...) contributions of counterfactual dependence and physical connections in causal ascriptions involving events with people, artifacts, or biological traits, and manipulate whether the events are construed teleologically or mechanistically. The findings suggest that when events are construed teleologically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to counterfactual dependence and relatively insensitive to the presence of physical connections, but when events are construed mechanistically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to both counterfactual dependence and physical connections. The conclusion introduces an account of causation, an "exportable dependence theory," that provides a way to understand the contributions of physical connections and teleology in terms of the functions of causal ascriptions. (shrink)
I agree with Knobe's claim in his “Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist” article that moral considerations are integral to the workings of people's competence in making causal judgments. However, I disagree with the particular explanation he gives of the way in which moral considerations influence causal judgments. I critically scrutinize his explanation and outline a better one.
Empirical research has recently emerged as a key method for understanding the nature of causation, and our concept of causation. One thread of research aims to test intuitions about the nature of causation in a variety of classic cases. These experiments have principally been used to try to resolve certain debates within analytic philosophy, most notably that between proponents of transference and dependence views of causation. The other major thread of empirical research on our concept of causation has investigated the (...) role that normative considerations play in causal judgments. These experimental results suggest that philosophical accounts of our concept of causation should take a broader view of what might be relevant. For both lines of research, we describe some of the significant experiments and outline key philosophical morals that have been drawn, all while pointing out various limitations. We conclude by considering other kinds of empirical research that should be philosophically interesting for those studying the nature of causation and our concept of causation. In particular, we point towards the need for philosophical research about causal perception, causal reasoning, and causal learning, as well as ways in which this research could play a role in prescriptive metaphysics. (shrink)
Which factors influence the folk application of the concept of causation? Knobe has argued that causal judgments are primarily influenced by the moral valence of the behavior under consideration. Whereas Driver has pointed out that the data Knobe relies on can also be used to support the claim that it is the atypicality of the agent's behavior that influences our willingness to assign causality to that agent. While Knobe and Fraser have provided a further study to address the cogency of (...) this alternative explanation, we argue that they have not provided a complete analysis. We present a variation on this study that addresses the relation between atypical and moral considerations as they contribute to the application of the concept causation. Our results indicate that atypicality cannot be ignored in an analysis of the folk concept of causation. That is, Knobe and Fraser's response to Driver is inadequate. (shrink)
Empirical work on the use of causal language by ordinary people indicates that their causal attributions tend to be sensitive not only to purely descriptive considerations, but also to broadly moral considerations. For example, ordinary causal attributions appear to be highly sensitive to whether a behavior is permissible or impermissible. Recently, however, a consensus view has emerged that situates the role of permissibility information within a broader framework: According to the consensus, ordinary causal attributions are sensitive to whether or not (...) a behavior is generally out of the norm, where being out of the norm might indicate deviation from a prescriptive norm (a broadly moral consideration) or deviation from a statistical norm (a purely descriptive consideration). In contrast, we conjecture that ordinary causal attributions are more directly connected to broadly moral judgments about normative responsibility (the responsibility view). We present the results of a series of new experimental studies that are consistent with the responsibility view, while indicating that the consensus position is seriously mistaken. (shrink)
Experimental examination of how the folk conceptualize certain philosophically loaded notions can provide information useful for philosophical theorizing. In this paper, we explore issues raised in Shaun Nichols' (2004) studies involving people's conception of free will, focusing on his claim that this conception fits best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. We argue that his data do not support this conclusion, highlighting along the way certain considerations that ought to be taken into account when probing the folk conception of free (...) will. (shrink)
How do people understand questions about cause and prevent? Some theories propose that people affirm that A causes B if A's occurrence makes a difference to B's occurrence in one way or another. Other theories propose that A causes B if some quantity or symbol gets passed in some way from A to B. The aim of our studies is to compare these theories' ability to explain judgements of causation and prevention. We describe six experiments that compare judgements for causal (...) paths that involve a mechanism, i.e. a continuous process of transmission or exchange from cause to effect, against paths that involve no mechanism yet a change in the cause nevertheless brings about a change in the effect. Our results show that people prefer to attribute cause when a mechanism links cause to effect. In contrast, prevention is sensitive both to the presence of an interruption to a causal mechanism and to a change in the outcome in the absence of a mechanism. In this sense, ‘prevent’ means something different than ‘cause not'. We discuss the implications of our results for existing theories of causation. (shrink)