Blame, Badness, and Intentional Action: A Reply to Knobe and Mendlow

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 24 (2):259-269 (2004)
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Abstract

Florida State University In a series of recent papers both Joshua Knobe (2003a; 2003b; 2004) and I (2004a; 2004b; forthcoming) have published the results of some psychological experiments that show that moral considerations influence folk ascriptions of intentional action in both non-side effect and side effect cases.1 More specifically, our data suggest that people are more likely to judge that a morally negative action or side effect was brought about intentionally than they are to judge that a structurally similar non-moral action or side effect was brought about intentionally. So, for instance, if two individuals A and B place a single bullet in a six shooter, spin the chamber, aim the gun, and pull the trigger, but A shoots a person and B shoots a target, people are more likely to say that A shot the person intentionally than they are to say that B shot the target intentionally— even though their respective chances of success (viz., one-in-six) and their control over the outcome are identical in both cases. And while Knobe and I agree that our research creates difficulties for any analysis of the folk concept of intentional action that ignores the biasing effect of moral considerations, we disagree about how best to explain this effect. I have suggested that the moral blameworthiness of an agent can influence folk intuitions about intentional action. In a recent response to my work, Knobe and Mendlow (2004) reject this claim on two separate grounds—one a priori, one empirical. By their lights, not only is my view conceptually confused, but it also allegedly fails to explain the results of a recent experiment they have conducted. On Knobe and Mendlow’s view, it is..

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Thomas Nadelhoffer
College of Charleston

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