Science and Engineering Ethics 28 (2):1-22 (2022)

Ivar Hannikainen
Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro
Fernando Aguiar
Consejo Superior De Investigaciones Científicas
The control principle implies that people should not feel guilt for outcomes beyond their control. Yet, the so-called ‘agent and observer puzzles’ in philosophy demonstrate that people waver in their commitment to the control principle when reflecting on accidental outcomes. In the context of car accidents involving conventional or autonomous vehicles, Study 1 established that judgments of responsibility are most strongly associated with expressions of guilt–over and above other negative emotions, such as sadness, remorse or anger. Studies 2 and 3 then confirmed that, while people generally endorse the control principle, and deny that occupants in an AV should feel guilt when involved in an accident, they nevertheless ascribe guilt to those same occupants. Study 3 also uncovered novel implications of the observer puzzle in the legal context: Passengers in an AV were seen as more legally liable than either passengers in a conventional vehicle, or even their drivers–especially when participants were prompted to reflect on the passengers’ affective experience of guilt. Our findings document an important conflict–in the context of AV accidents–between people’s prescriptive reasoning about responsibility and guilt on one hand, and their counter-normative experience of guilt on the other, with apparent implications for liability decisions.
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DOI 10.1007/s11948-022-00363-8
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