Intuitions and Individual Differences: The Knobe Effect Revisited


  • We would like to thank Fred Adams, Kent Bach, Anne Bezuidenhout, Steve Downes, Michael Gill, Edouard Machery, Elijah Millgram, Ron Mallon, Thomas Nadelhoffer, Paulo Sousa, Jason Turner, Jonathan Weinberg, an anonymous referee, and an editor for Mind & Language for comments and discussion on a previous draft. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Social Cognitive Development group at Harvard University, and we’d like to thank the audience for helpful feedback. Finally and especially, we are extremely grateful to Joshua Knobe for numerous discussions about the material presented here.

Shaun Nichols, Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Abstract:  Recent work by Joshua Knobe indicates that people’s intuition about whether an action was intentional depends on whether the outcome is good or bad. This paper argues that part of the explanation for this effect is that there are stable individual differences in how ‘intentional’ is interpreted. That is, in Knobe’s cases, different people interpret the term in different ways. This interpretive diversity of ‘intentional’ opens up a new avenue to help explain Knobe’s results. Furthermore, the paper argues that the use of intuitions in philosophy is complicated by fact that there are robust individual differences in intuitions about matters of philosophical concern.