Two types of typicality: Rethinking the role of statistical typicality in ordinary causal attributions

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (4):814-820 (2012)
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Abstract

Empirical work on the use of causal language by ordinary people indicates that their causal attributions tend to be sensitive not only to purely descriptive considerations, but also to broadly moral considerations. For example, ordinary causal attributions appear to be highly sensitive to whether a behavior is permissible or impermissible. Recently, however, a consensus view has emerged that situates the role of permissibility information within a broader framework: According to the consensus, ordinary causal attributions are sensitive to whether or not a behavior is generally out of the norm, where being out of the norm might indicate deviation from a prescriptive norm (a broadly moral consideration) or deviation from a statistical norm (a purely descriptive consideration). In contrast, we conjecture that ordinary causal attributions are more directly connected to broadly moral judgments about normative responsibility (the responsibility view). We present the results of a series of new experimental studies that are consistent with the responsibility view, while indicating that the consensus position is seriously mistaken.

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Author Profiles

David Rose
Stanford University
Justin Sytsma
Victoria University of Wellington
Jonathan Livengood
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign