Causation, Foreseeability, and Norms

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society 45:888–895 (2023)
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A growing body of literature has revealed ordinary causal judgement to be sensitive to normative factors, such that a norm-violating agent is regarded more causal than their non-norm-violating counterpart. In this paper, we explore two competing explanations for this phenomenon: the Responsibility View and the Bias View. The Bias View, but not the Responsibility View, predicts features peripheral to the agent’s responsibility to impact causal attributions. In a series of three preregistered experiments (N = 1162), we present new evidence that the Norm Effect arises from such peripheral features, namely from nonpertinent or entirely silly norm violations. Furthermore, we show that this effect cannot be explained by recourse to the agent’s foreknowledge or desire of the outcome, nor by its foreseeability: the Norm Effect arises even when participants judge the norm-violating agent’s doing as equally foreseeable. This, we argue, provides evidence in favour of the Bias View.



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Author Profiles

Levin Güver
University College London
Markus Kneer
University of Graz

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