Beliefs and moral Valence affect intentionality attributions: The case of side effects

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (2):201-209 (2010)
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Abstract

Do moral appraisals shape judgments of intentionality? A traditional view is that individuals first evaluate whether an action has been carried out intentionally. Then they use this evaluation as input for their moral judgments. Recent studies, however, have shown that individuals’ moral appraisals can also influence their intentionality attributions. They attribute intentionality to the negative side effect of a given action, but not to the positive side effect of the same action. In three experiments, we show that this asymmetry is a robust effect that critically depends on the agent’s beliefs. The asymmetry is reduced when agents are described as not knowing that their action can bring about side effects, and is eliminated when they are deemed to hold a false belief about the consequences of their actions. These results suggest that both evaluative and epistemic considerations are used in intentionality attribution.

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