The good, the bad and the blameworthy: Understanding the role of evaluative reasoning in folk psychology
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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People ordinarily make sense of their own behavior and that of others by invoking concepts like belief, desire, and intention. Philosophers refer to this network of concepts and related principles as ‘folk psychology.’ The prevailing view of folk psychology among philosophers of mind and psychologists is that it is a proto-scientific theory whose function is to explain and predict behavior. Recent studies call this view into question by suggesting that moral considerations play an essential role in the application of certain folk-psychological concepts (Knobe 2003a, 2003b, 2004; Knobe & Burra forthcoming; Nadelhoffer forthcoming). If the function of folk psychology were just to predict and explain behavior, moral considerations wouldn’t have any obvious role to play. Since they do play a role, it seems probable that folk psychology has a function other than, or at least in addition to, that of predicting and explaining behavior. It is our assumption—an assumption our interlocutors presumably share—that, since moral considerations play an essential role in the application of certain folk-psychological concepts, getting clear on the nature and extent of this role is indispensable to arriving at a proper understanding of folk psychology. Nadelhoffer’s paper addresses the importance of moral considerations to the application of a specific folk-psychological concept—the concept of intentional action. He is concerned to explain, in particular, why people are more likely to regard a sideeffect of an action as brought about intentionally when that side-effect is harmful than when it is beneficial. His hypothesis is that one’s judgment as to whether a given sideeffect was brought about intentionally is influenced by the amount of praise or blame one assigns. Since people typically blame the agent for bad side-effects but don’t praise the agent for good ones, Nadelhoffer claims, they tend to regard bad side-effects as intentional and good ones as unintentional.
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