Folk intuitions, asymmetry, and intentional side effects

An agent S wants to A and knows that if she A-s she will also bring about B. S does not care at all about B. S then A-s, also bringing about B. Did she intentionally bring B about? Joshua Knobe (2003b) has recently argued that, according to the folk concept of intentional action, the answer depends on B's moral significance. In particular, if B is reprehensible, people are more likely to say that S intentionally brought it about. Knobe defends this position with empirical facts about how ordinary people use the adjective 'intentionally.' Knobe's results are consistent with the thesis that the concept of intentional action is fundamentally evaluative. There is an alternative hypothesis, however, which can account for Knobe's data and which keeps the concept of intentional action within the purview of action theory. The current author suggests that the following conditions are jointly sufficient for a side effect E, produced by S's action A, being intentional: (i) S knows that E will (or is likely to) occur as a result of A-ing, (ii) bringing about E counts against A-ing (from the S's perspective), and (iii) S does not try to keep E from occurring. Known immoral side effects will always, from the folk's perspective, satisfy condition (ii) of this hypothesis.
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DOI 10.1037/h0091242
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Joshua Knobe (2010). Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (4):315.
Joshua Knobe (2007). Reason Explanation in Folk Psychology. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (1):90–106.

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