Attribution of externalities: An economic approach to the Knobe effect

Economics and Philosophy 30 (2):215-240 (2014)
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A series of studies in experimental philosophy have revealed that people blame others for foreseen negative side effects but do not praise them for foreseen positive ones. In order to challenge this idea, also called the Knobe effect, we develop a laboratory experiment using monetary incentives. In a game-theoretic framework we formalize the two vignettes in a neutral way, which means that we abstain from the use of any specific language terms and can easily control and vary the economic parameters of the situation. We confirm the Knobe effect in one situation and present situations in which the effect vanishes or even reverses. Our results are in line with a theoretical approach where the assessment of intention is not based on the action itself but on the underlying motive – as modelled in Levine.



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