Folk Psychology and Folk Morality: Response to Critics

It is often implied, and sometimes explicitly asserted, that folk psychology is best understood as a kind of predictive device. The key contention of this widely held view is that people apply folk-psychological concepts because the application of these concepts enables them to predict future behavior. If we know what an agent believes, desires, intends, etc., we can make a pretty good guess about what he or she will do next. It seems to me that this picture is not quite right. In a series of recent papers, my colleagues and I have presented data that suggests that moral considerations actually play an important role in folk psychology (Knobe 2003a; 2003b; 2004; Knobe & Burra forthcoming; Knobe & Mendlow forthcoming). These findings do not sit well with the view according to which folk psychology is best understood as a predictive device. It appears that folk psychology might be better understood as a kind of multi-purpose tool. It is used not only in making predictive judgments but also in making moral judgments, and both of these uses appear to have shaped the fundamental competencies that underlie it. One of the most important forms of evidence in this debate comes from studies of the distinction people draw between intentional and unintentional behavior. These studies indicate that people’s intuitions as to whether or not a behavior was performed intentionally can be influenced by their beliefs about the moral status of the behavior..
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DOI 10.1037/h0091248
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Joshua Knobe (2010). Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (4):315.

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