There are side effects to almost every action people take. Getting rid of insects in a home can cause harm to the environment, or even poison pets within the household. Studying for a test can cause lack of sleep, and ultimately poorer health. Throwing away the remains of an unfinished dinner plate discards what could have been valuable nutrients for starving children in Africa. How one determines intentionality of an action has been a controversial topic for many. Joshua Knobe has conducted experiments for explaining the proper analysis of intentional action, while Uttich and Lombrozo have conducted experiments exploring the relationship between norms and mental state ascriptions in terms of intentional actions. This paper will review the results of one of Knobe’s studies, explain the side-effect effect in the perspective of Uttich and Lombrozo, and offer an alternative explanation to the side-effect effect.
Knobe’s first experiment tested whether judgments of intentionality were influenced by whether the side-effect of an action was good or bad. His experiment consisted of subjects reading about a person, the chairman of a company, who was interested in starting a new program to increase profits. Some of the subjects were given a scenario in which that new program would harm the environment, while others read about how that program would help the environment. In either case, the chairman did not care about the side-effect; the purpose of this new program was to make more money. The subjects were then asked to determine how much blame or praise the person should receive for harming or helping the environment. The results of this experiment showed that the majority of subjects thought the person was intent...
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...effect. People should be held responsible for harmful side effects that are caused, especially since they are seen as intentional. In addition, when legal issues are involved, jurors should consider the fact that people will attempt to avoid harmful side effects. If harmful side effects do occur, jurors should assume that they were intentional unless there is strong evidence otherwise. That is, jurors should assume that those side effects were brought about on purpose, with the person performing the action being fully aware of the risks being taken.
Knobe, Joshua. "Intentional Action and Side Effects in Ordinary Language." Oxford Journals 63.3 (2003): 190-94. JStor. Oxford University Press.
Uttich, Kevin, and Tania Lombrozo. "Norms Inform Mental State Ascriptions: A Rational Explanation for the Side-effect Effect." Cognition 116 (2010): 87-100. Elsevier.
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