The Butler problem revisited

Analysis 64 (3):277–284 (2004)
On the surface, it seems plausible that the goodness or badness of an agent’s actions should be completely irrelevant to the question of whether she performed them intentionally, but there is growing evidence that ascriptions of intentional actions are affected by moral considerations. Joshua Knobe, for instance, has recently published a series of groundbreaking papers (2003a, 2003b, 2004) in which he suggests that people’s judgments concerning the intentionality of an action may sometimes depend on what they think about the action – morally speaking. One of the more interesting results of Knobe’s psychological experiments is the discovery that people may have a lower threshold for judging that lucky (or unskilled) actions are intentional when these actions are praiseworthy or blameworthy than they do for judging that equally lucky (or unskilled) morally neutral actions are intentional. In this paper I show that this discovery – when supplemented with some additional empirical data – gives us a way of shedding new light on a controversy that was sparked by Ronald Butler in 1977 when he posed the following problem to the readers of Analysis.
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DOI 10.1111/j.0003-2638.2004.00497.x
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