Theory of mind, the capacity to understand and ascribe mental states, has traditionally been conceptualized as analogous to a scientific theory. However, recent work in philosophy and psychology has documented a "side-effect effect" suggesting that moral evaluations influence mental state ascriptions, and in particular whether a behavior is described as having been performed 'intentionally.' This evidence challenges the idea that theory of mind is analogous to scientific psychology in serving the function of predicting and explaining, rather than evaluating, behavior. In (...) three experiments, we demonstrate that moral evaluations do inform ascriptions of intentional action, but that this relationship arises because behavior that conforms to norms (moral or otherwise) is less informative about underlying mental states than is behavior that violates norms. This analysis preserves the traditional understanding of theory of mind as a tool for predicting and explaining behavior, but also suggests the importance of normative considerations in social cognition. (shrink)
Both philosophers and psychologists have argued for the existence of distinct kinds of explanations, including teleological explanations that cite functions or goals, and mechanistic explanations that cite causal mechanisms. Theories of causation, in contrast, have generally been unitary, with dominant theories focusing either on counterfactual dependence or on physical connections. This paper argues that both approaches to causation are psychologically real, with different modes of explanation promoting judgments more or less consistent with each approach. Two sets of experiments isolate the (...) contributions of counterfactual dependence and physical connections in causal ascriptions involving events with people, artifacts, or biological traits, and manipulate whether the events are construed teleologically or mechanistically. The findings suggest that when events are construed teleologically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to counterfactual dependence and relatively insensitive to the presence of physical connections, but when events are construed mechanistically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to both counterfactual dependence and physical connections. The conclusion introduces an account of causation, an "exportable dependence theory," that provides a way to understand the contributions of physical connections and teleology in terms of the functions of causal ascriptions. (shrink)
Traditional approaches to moral psychology assumed that moral judgments resulted from the application of explicit commitments, such as those embodied in consequentialist or deontological philosophies. In contrast, recent work suggests that moral judgments often result from unconscious or emotional processes, with explicit commitments generated post hoc. This paper explores the intermediate position that moral commitments mediate moral judgments, but not through their explicit and consistent application in the course of judgment. An experiment with 336 participants finds that individuals vary in (...) the extent to which their moral commitments are consequentialist or deontological, and that this variation is systematically but imperfectly related to the moral judgments elicited by trolley car problems. Consequentialist participants find action in trolley car scenarios more permissible than do deontologists, and only consequentialists moderate their judgments when scenarios that typically elicit different intuitions are presented side by side. The findings emphasize the need for a theory of moral reasoning that can accommodate both the associations and dissociations between moral commitments and moral judgments. (shrink)
Generating and evaluating explanations is spontaneous, ubiquitous and fundamental to our sense of understanding. Recent evidence suggests that in the course of an individual’s reasoning, engaging in explanation can have profound effects on the probability assigned to causal claims, on how properties are generalized and on learning. These effects follow from two properties of the structure of explanations: explanations accommodate novel information in the context of prior beliefs, and do so in a way that fosters generalization. The study of explanation (...) thus promises to shed light on core cognitive issues, such as learning, induction and conceptual representation. Moreover, the influence of explanation on learning and inference presents a challenge to theories that neglect the roles of prior knowledge and explanation-based reasoning. (shrink)
Research in education and cognitive development suggests that explaining plays a key role in learning and generalization: When learners provide explanations—even to themselves—they learn more effectively and generalize more readily to novel situations. This paper proposes and tests a subsumptive constraints account of this effect. Motivated by philosophical theories of explanation, this account predicts that explaining guides learners to interpret what they are learning in terms of unifying patterns or regularities, which promotes the discovery of broad generalizations. Three experiments provide (...) evidence for the subsumptive constraints account: prompting participants to explain while learning artificial categories promotes the induction of a broad generalization underlying category membership, relative to describing items (Exp. 1), thinking aloud (Exp. 2), or free study (Exp. 3). Although explaining facilitates discovery, Experiment 1 finds that description is more beneficial for learning item details. Experiment 2 additionally suggests that explaining anomalous observations may play a special role in belief revision. The findings provide insight into explanation’s role in discovery and generalization. (shrink)
Two studies examined the specificity of effects of explanation on learning by prompting 3- to 6-year-old children to explain a mechanical toy and comparing what they learned about the toy’s causal and non-causal properties to children who only observed the toy, both with and without accompanying verbalization. In Study 1, children were experimentally assigned to either explain or observe the mechanical toy. In Study 2, children were classified according to whether the content of their response to an undirected prompt involved (...) explanation. Dependent measures included whether children understood the toy’s functional-mechanical relationships, remembered perceptual features of the toy, effectively reconstructed the toy, and (for Study 2) generalized the function of the toy when constructing a new one. Results demonstrate that across age groups, explanation promotes causal learning and generalization, but does not improve (and in younger children, can even impair) memory for causally-irrelevant perceptual details. (shrink)
Four experiments investigate the folk concept of “understanding,” in particular when and why it is deployed differently from the concept of knowledge. We argue for the positions that people have higher demands with respect to explanatory depth when it comes to attributing understanding, and that this is true, in part, because understanding attributions play a functional role in identifying experts who should be heeded with respect to the general field in question. These claims are supported by our findings that people (...) differentially withhold attributions of understanding when the object of attribution has minimal explanatory information. We also show that this tendency significantly correlates with people’s willingness to defer to others as potential experts. This work bears on a pressing issue in epistemology concerning the place and value of understanding. Our results also provide reason against positing a simple equation of knowledge and understanding. We contend that, because deference plays a crucial role in many aspects of everyday reasoning, the fact that we use understanding attributions to demarcate experts reveals a potential mechanism for achieving our epistemic aims in many domains. (shrink)
Scientific and ‘intuitive’ or ‘folk’ theories are typically characterized as serving three critical functions: prediction, explanation, and control. While prediction and control have clear instrumental value, the value of explanation is less transparent. This paper reviews an emerging body of research from the cognitive sciences suggesting that the process of seeking, generating, and evaluating explanations in fact contributes to future prediction and control, albeit indirectly by facilitating the discovery and confirmation of instrumentally valuable theories. Theoretical and empirical considerations also suggest (...) why explanations may nonetheless feel intrinsically valuable. The paper concludes by considering some implications of the psychology of explanation for a naturalized philosophy of explanation. (shrink)
Contemporary debates about the nature of semantic reference have tended to focus on two competing approaches: theories which emphasize the importance of descriptive information associated with a referring term, and those which emphasize causal facts about the conditions under which the use of the term originated and was passed on. Recent empirical work by Machery and colleagues suggests that both causal and descriptive information can play a role in judgments about the reference of proper names, with findings of cross-cultural variation (...) in judgments that imply differences between individuals with respect to whether they favor causal or descriptive information in making reference judgments. We extend this theoretical and empirical line of inquiry to views of the reference of natural and nominal kind concepts, which face similar challenges to those concerning the reference of proper names. In two experiments, we find evidence that both descriptive and causal factors contribute to judgments of concept reference, with no reliable differences between natural and nominal kinds. Moreover, we find evidence that the same individuals’ judgments can rely on both descriptive and causal information, such that variation between individuals cannot be explained by appeal to a mixed population of “pure descriptive theorists” and “pure causal theorists.” These findings suggest that the contrast between descriptive and causal theories of reference may be inappropriate; intuitions may instead support a hybrid theory of reference that includes both causal and descriptive factors. We propose that future research should focus on the relationship between these factors, and describe several possible frameworks for pursuing these issues. Our findings have implications for theories of semantic reference, as well as for theories of conceptual structure. (shrink)
Recent years have seen an explosion of new work at the intersection of philosophy and experimental psychology. This work takes the concerns with moral and conceptual issues that have so long been associated with philosophy and connects them with the use of systematic and well-controlled empirical investigations that one more typically finds in psychology. Work in this new field often goes under the name "experimental philosophy".
One way to learn about the world is by asking questions. We investigate how younger children (7- to 8-year-olds), older children (9- to 11-year-olds), and young adults (17- to 18-year-olds) ask questions to identify the cause of an event. We find a developmental shift in children’s reliance on hypothesis-scanning questions (which test hypotheses directly) versus constraint-seeking questions (which reduce the space of hypotheses), but also that all age groups ask more constraint-seeking questions when hypothesis-scanning questions are least likely to pay (...) off: When the solution is one among equally likely alternatives (Study 1) or when the problem is difficult (Studies 1 and 2). These findings are the first to demonstrate that even young children dynamically adapt their strategies for inquiry to increase the efficiency of information search. (shrink)
Occam's razor—the idea that all else being equal, we should pick the simpler hypothesis—plays a prominent role in ordinary and scientific inference. But why are simpler hypotheses better? One attractive hypothesis known as Bayesian Occam's razor is that more complex hypotheses tend to be more flexible—they can accommodate a wider range of possible data—and that flexibility is automatically penalized by Bayesian inference. In two experiments, we provide evidence that people's intuitive probabilistic and explanatory judgments follow the prescriptions of BOR. In (...) particular, people's judgments are consistent with the two most distinctive characteristics of BOR: They penalize hypotheses as a function not only of their numbers of free parameters but also as a function of the size of the parameter space, and they penalize those hypotheses even when their parameters can be “tuned” to fit the data better than comparatively simpler hypotheses. (shrink)
Knobe considers two explanations for the influence of moral considerations on cognitive systems: the position, and the position. We suggest that this dichotomy conflates questions at computational and algorithmic levels, and suggest that distinguishing the issues at these levels reveals a third, viable option, which we call the position.
Editorial: Dimensions of Experimental Philosophy Content Type Journal Article Pages 315-318 DOI 10.1007/s13164-010-0037-9 Authors Joshua Knobe, Program in Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Yale University, New Haven, CT USA Tania Lombrozo, Department of Psychology, UC Berkeley, 3210 Tolman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA Edouard Machery, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, 1017 CL, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA Journal Review of Philosophy and Psychology Online ISSN 1878-5166 Print ISSN 1878-5158 Journal Volume Volume 1 Journal Issue Volume (...) 1, Number 3. (shrink)
If someone brings about an outcome without intending to, is she causally and morally responsible for it? What if she acts intentionally, but as the result of manipulation by another agent? Previous research has shown that an agent's mental states can affect attributions of causal and moral responsibility to that agent, but little is known about what effect one agent's mental states can have on attributions to another agent. In Experiment 1, we replicate findings that manipulation lowers attributions of responsibility (...) to manipulated agents. Experiments 2–7 isolate which features of manipulation drive this effect, a crucial issue for both philosophical debates about free will and attributions of responsibility in situations involving social influence more generally. Our results suggest that “bypassing” a manipulated agent's mental states generates the greatest reduction in responsibility, and we explain our results in terms of the effects that one agent's mental states can have on the counterfactual relations between another agent and an outcome. (shrink)
Much recent work on explanation in the interventionist tradition emphasizes the explanatory value of stable causal generalizations—i.e., causal generalizations that remain true in a wide range of background circumstances. We argue that two separate explanatory virtues are lumped together under the heading of `stability’. We call these two virtues breadth and guidance respectively. In our view, these two virtues are importantly distinct, but this fact is neglected or at least under-appreciated in the literature on stability. We argue that an adequate (...) theory of explanatory goodness should recognize breadth and guidance as distinct virtues, as breadth and guidance track different ideals of explanation, satisfy different cognitive and pragmatic ends, and play different theoretical roles in helping us understand the explanatory value of mechanisms. Thus keeping track of the distinction between these two forms of stability yields a more accurate and perspicuous picture of the role that stability considerations play in explanation. (shrink)
An actor's mental states—whether she acted knowingly and with bad intentions—typically play an important role in evaluating the extent to which an action is wrong and in determining appropriate levels of punishment. In four experiments, we find that this role for knowledge and intent is significantly weaker when evaluating transgressions of conventional rules as opposed to moral rules. We also find that this attenuated role for knowledge and intent is partly due to the fact that conventional rules are judged to (...) be more arbitrary than moral rules; whereas moral transgressions are associated with actions that are intrinsically wrong, conventional transgressions are associated with actions that are only contingently wrong. Finally, we find that it is the perpetrator's belief about the arbitrary or non-arbitrary basis of the rule—not the reality—that drives this differential effect of knowledge and intent across types of transgressions. (shrink)
In pedagogical contexts and in everyday life, we often come to believe something because it would best explain the data. What is it about the explanatory endeavor that makes it essential to everyday learning and to scientific progress? There are at least two plausible answers. On one view, there is something special about having true explanations. This view is highly intuitive: it’s clear why true explanations might improve one’s epistemic position. However, there is another possibility—it could be that the process (...) of seeking, generating, or evaluating explanations itself puts one in a better epistemic position, even when the outcome of the process is not a true explanation. In other words, it could be that accurate explanations are beneficial, or it could be that high-quality explaining is beneficial, where there is something about the activity of looking for an explanation that improves our epistemic standing. The main goal of this paper is to tease apart these two possibilities, both theoretically and empirically, which we align with “Inference to the Best Explanation” and “Explaining for the Best Inference”, respectively. We also provide some initial support for EBI and identify promising directions for future research. (shrink)
In his book Doing Without Concepts, Edouard Machery argues that cognitive scientists should reject the concept of “concept” as a natural, psychological kind. I review and critique several of Machery’s arguments, focusing on his definition of “concept” and on claims against the possibility and utility of a unified account of concepts. In particular, I suggest ways in which prototype, exemplar, and theory-theory approaches to concepts might be integrated.
Machery emphasizes the centrality of explanation for theory-based approaches to concepts. I endorse Machery's emphasis on explanation and consider recent advances in psychology that point to the of explanation, with consequences for Machery's heterogeneity hypothesis about concepts.
The new interdisciplinary field of experimental philosophy has emerged as the methods of psychological science have been brought to bear on traditional philosophical issues. Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy will be the place to go to see outstanding new work in the field, by both philosophers and psychologists.
The new field of experimental philosophy has emerged as the methods of psychological science have been brought to bear on traditional philosophical issues. Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy will be the place to go to see outstanding new work in the field. It will feature papers by philosophers, papers by psychologists, and papers co-authored by people in both disciplines. The series heralds the emergence of a truly interdisciplinary field in which people from different disciplines are working together to address a (...) shared set of questions.The inaugural volume is roughly structured into four sections. The first three papers focus on recent developments in moral psychology, a topic that has seen lively debate and a great deal of progress over the last decade. The second section highlights three contributions that bring new methods to moral psychology: formal modeling and special populations. The third section brings together four papers that adopt an experimental philosophy approach to novel topics, including intuitive dualism, generics, joint action, and happiness. And the last two papers provide critical and historical context to the development of experimental philosophy. (shrink)