Can an event’s blameworthiness distort whether people see it as intentional? In controversial recent studies, people judged a behavior’s negative side effect intentional even though the agent allegedly had no desire for it to occur. Such a judgment contradicts the standard assumption that desire is a necessary condition of intentionality, and it raises concerns about assessments of intentionality in legal settings. Six studies examined whether blameworthy events distort intentionality judgments. Studies 1 through 4 show that, counter to recent claims, intentionality (...) judgments are systematically guided by variations in the agent’s desire, for moral and nonmoral actions alike. Studies 5 and 6 show that a behavior’s negative side effects are rarely seen as intentional once people are allowed to choose from multiple descriptions of the behavior. Specifically, people distinguish between “knowingly” and “intentionally” bringing about a side effect, even for immoral actions. These studies suggest that intentionality judgments are unaffected by a behavior’s blameworthiness. (shrink)
Moral judgments about an agent's behavior are enmeshed with inferences about the agent's mind. Folk psychology—the system that enables such inferences—therefore lies at the heart of moral judgment. We examine three related folk-psychological concepts that together shape people's judgments of blame: intentionality, choice, and free will. We discuss people's understanding and use of these concepts, address recent findings that challenge the autonomous role of these concepts in moral judgment, and conclude that choice is the fundamental concept of the three, defining (...) the core of folk psychology in moral judgment. (shrink)
Extant models of moral judgment assume that an action’s intentionality precedes assignments of blame. Knobe (2003b) challenged this fundamental order and proposed instead that the badness or blameworthiness of an action directs (and thus unduly biases) people’s intentionality judgments. His and other researchers’ studies suggested that blameworthy actions are considered intentional even when the agent lacks skill (e.g., killing somebody with a lucky shot) whereas equivalent neutral actions are not (e.g., luckily hitting a bull’s-eye). The present ﬁve studies offer an (...) alternative account of these provocative ﬁndings. We suggest that people see the morally signiﬁcant action examined in previous studies (killing) as accomplished by a basic action (pressing the trigger) for which an unskilled agent still has sufﬁcient skill. Studies 1 through 3 show that when this basic action is performed unskillfully or is absent, people are far less likely to view the killing as intentional, demonstrating that intentionality judgments, even about immoral actions, are guided by skill information. Studies 4 and 5 further show that a neutral action such as hitting the bull’s-eye is more difﬁcult than killing and that difﬁcult actions are less often judged intentional. When difﬁculty is held constant, people’s intentionality judgments are fully responsive to skill information regardless of moral valence. The present studies thus speak against the hypothesis of a moral evaluation bias in intentionality judgments and instead document people’s sensitivity to subtle features of human action. (shrink)
Moral judgment – even the type discussed by Knobe – necessarily relies on substantial information about an agent's mental states, especially regarding beliefs and attitudes. Moreover, the effects described by Knobe can be attributed to norm violations in general, rather than moral concerns in particular. Consequently, Knobe's account overstates the influence of moral judgment on assessments of mental states and causality.