Knobe, Side Effects, and the Morally Good Business

Journal of Business Ethics 85 (S1):173 - 178 (2008)
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This paper focuses on Joshua Knobe's experiments which show that people attribute blame and intentionality to the chairman of a company that knowingly causes harmful side effects, but do not attribute praise and intentionality to the chairman of a company that knowingly causes helpful side effects. Knobe's explanation of this data is that people determine intentionality based on the moral consideration of whether the side effect is good or bad. This observation and explanation has come to be known as the "Knobe Effect." One implication from the Knobe Effect is that it seems profit-driven businesses can only intentionally cause harmful and never good side effects. This paper examines the Knobe Effect, and argues for a way that business persons can understand it and avoid its implications. The argument has three parts. The first point is that business persons who care only about profits are blameworthy and rightly should not get credit for good side effects. Second, when a morally praiseworthy person who cares about values other than profits causes side effects, her actions are intentional and praiseworthy. Therefore, profit-driven business persons can be praised for intentionally producing good side effects if they consider other moral values as moral agents should. Finally, morally praiseworthy business persons need only to be Minimally Good Samaritans and not totally altruistic. When a business person strives for profits, adheres to other morally important values, and produces morally good side effects, then we should say that she intentionally caused those effects and is praiseworthy



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