INTENTIONAL ACTION AND THE PRAISE-BLAME ASYMMETRY

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Abstract

Recent empirical research by Joshua Knobe has uncovered two asymmetries in judgements about intentional action and moral responsibility. First, people are more inclined to say that a side effect was brought about intentionally when they regard that side effect as bad than when they regard it as good. Secondly, people are more inclined to ascribe blame to someone for bad effects than they are inclined to ascribe praise for good effects. These findings suggest that the notion of intentional action has a normative component. I propose a theory of intentional action on which one acts intentionally if one fails to be motivated to avoid a bad effect. This explains the asymmetry concerning intentional action. The praise–blame asymmetry is explained in terms of the claim that praise depends on being appropriately motivated, whereas blame does not.

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