Philosophical Psychology 29 (8):1142-1159 (2016)

Kevin Reuter
University of Zürich
The omission effect, first described by Spranca and colleagues, has since been extensively studied and repeatedly confirmed. All else being equal, most people judge it to be morally worse to actively bring about a negative event than to passively allow that event to happen. In this paper, we provide new experimental data that challenges previous studies of the omission effect both methodologically and philosophically. We argue that previous studies have failed to control for the equivalence of rules that are violated by actions and omissions. Once equivalent norms are introduced, our results show that the omission effect is eliminated, even if the negative outcome of the behavior is foreseen and intended by the agent. We show that the omission effect does not constitute a basic, moral disposition but occurs exclusively in complex moral situations. Building on these empirical results, we cast doubt onto two influential explanations of the omission effect, the Causal Relevance Hypothesis and the Overgeneralization Hypothesis, and provide a novel explanation of the phenomenon. Furthermore, we discuss various ramifications of the interplay between our understanding of omissions and legal systems.
Keywords omissions  omission effect  empirical studies  causal relevance
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1080/09515089.2016.1225194
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,307
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Causal Judgment and Moral Judgment: Two Experiments.Joshua Knobe & Ben Fraser - 2008 - In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology. MIT Press.

View all 11 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

What is an Omission?Randolph Clarke - 2012 - Philosophical Issues 22 (1):127-143.
Cause by Omission and Norm: Not Watering Plants.Paul Henne, Ángel Pinillos & Felipe De Brigard - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (2):270-283.
Omissions and Other Acts.Alison G. Mcintyre - 1985 - Dissertation, Princeton University
Alternative Perspectives on Omission Bias.Christopher J. Anderson - 2005 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (4):544-544.
Responsibility, Control, and Omissions.John Martin Fischer - 1997 - The Journal of Ethics 1 (1):45-64.
Omissions as Possibilities.Sara Bernstein - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (1):1-23.
Causalism and Intentional Omission.Joshua Shepherd - 2014 - American Philosophical Quarterly 51 (1):15-26.
Absence of Action.Randolph Clarke - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 158 (2):361-376.
Reference Fiction, and Omission.Samuel Murray - 2018 - Synthese 195 (1):235-257.


Added to PP index

Total views
28 ( #408,525 of 2,507,700 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #209,449 of 2,507,700 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes