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Asymmetries in Judgments of Responsibility and Intentional Action


  • Thanks to Jonathan Dancy, Shaun Nichols, Mark Phelan, George Sher, Ed Sherline, and especially Joshua Knobe for helpful comments and discussion. We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for Mind & Language, as well as audiences and commentators at the 2006 Mountain-Plains Philosophy Conference and 2007 Central APA. Finally, we wish to thank Christin Covello, Jerry Cullum, Bill Devlin, and Piper Grandjean for assistance with data collection/entry.

Jennifer Wright, Department of Psychology, College of Charleston, 65 Coming Street, Office #104, Charleston, SC 29424, USA; John Bengson, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, C3500 Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Abstract:  Recent experimental research on the ‘Knobe effect’ suggests, somewhat surprisingly, that there is a bi-directional relation between attributions of intentional action and evaluative considerations. We defend a novel account of this phenomenon that exploits two factors: (i) an intuitive asymmetry in judgments of responsibility (e.g. praise/blame) and (ii) the fact that intentionality commonly connects the evaluative status of actions to the responsibility of actors. We present the results of several new studies that provide empirical evidence in support of this account while disconfirming various currently prominent alternative accounts. We end by discussing some implications of this account for folk psychology.