Unintentionally biasing the data: Reply to Knobe

Knobe (2003) wants to help adjudicate the philosophical debate concerning whether and under what conditions we normally judge that some side effect x was brought about intentionally. His proposal for doing so is perhaps an obvious one—simply elicit the intuitions of “The Folk” directly on the matter and record the results. His findings were a bit less obvious, however. When Knobe presented New York parkgoers with scenarios including either good or bad side effects, they tended to judge that the bad side effect was brought about intentionally and that the good side effect was not. In light of these responses, Knobe concludes that <blockquote> [p]eople’s judgments depend in a crucial way on what x happens to be. In<br> particular, it makes a great deal of difference whether they think that x is<br> something good or something bad. (2003: 191) </blockquote> He further explains this conclusion in terms of an underlying normative asymmetry, for according to Knobe the data suggests that “people are considerably more willing to blame the agent for bad side effects than to praise the agent for good side effects” (2003: 193). Hence, people’s judgment that a side effect was brought about intentionally apparently rests, at least in part, upon how blameworthy they find the agent responsible for it
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Joseph Ulatowski (2012). Act Individuation: An Experimental Approach. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3 (2):249-262.
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