Folk psychology: Science and morals

In Daniel Hutto & Matthew Ratcliffe (eds.), Folk Psychology Reassessed. Springer Press (2008)
It is widely agreed that folk psychology plays an important role in people’s moral judgments. For a simple example, take the process by which we determine whether or not an agent is morally blameworthy. Although the judgment here is ultimately a moral one, it seems that one needs to use a fair amount of folk psychology along the way. Thus, one might determine that an agent broke the vase intentionally and therefore conclude that she is blameworthy for breaking it. Here it seems that one starts out with a folkpsychological judgment (that the agent acted intentionally) and then uses it as input to a process that eventually yields a moral judgment (that the agent is blameworthy). Many other cases have a similar structure. In recent years, however, a number of studies have shown that there are also cases in which the arrow of causation goes in the opposite direction. That is, there appear to be cases in which people start out with a moral judgment and then use it as input to a process that eventually yields a folk-psychological judgment (Knobe 2003a, 2003b, 2004, 2005a, 2005b). These findings come as something of a surprise, and it can be difficult to know just what to make of them. My own view is that the findings are best explained by the hypothesis that moral considerations truly do play a role in people’s underlying folk-psychological concepts (Knobe 2003b, 2004, forthcoming). The key claim here is that the effects revealed in recent experiments are not the result of any kind of ‘bias’ or ‘distortion.’ Rather, moral considerations truly do figure in a fundamental way in the issues people are trying to resolve when they grapple with folk-psychological questions. I must confess, however, that not all researchers in the field share this view. Although many have been convinced that moral considerations actually do play a role in folk-psychological concepts, others have suggested that there might be better ways to account for the results of recent experiments..
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