Moral Asymmetries, New Connections, and Possible Explanations: Putting Experimental Data into Context



Year of publication 2017
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description In the field of experimental philosophy and moral psychology, there are several branches of research that point out that when evaluating a moral situation and a moral agent, ascribing moral concepts to the agent or assessing blame/praise or punishment/reward, people tend to be biased by seemingly irrelevant factors. There were several documented asymmetries in the process of moral evaluation. The main aim of this paper is to show that different branches of research that are focused on different problems have in fact, a lot of things in common and that the results can complete each other and can actually tell us more when put into context. Even though these studies have so much in common, they were never put into context. So, in this bigger picture, there can be found interesting new connections, which lead to better understanding of folk moral mind and also to better understanding of the asymmetries. In my paper, I will focus on two interesting phenomena - the so called side-effect effect (Knobe, 2003) and moral luck (Cushman, 2008). In scenarios used in studies investigating these two phenomena, there can be identified the same set of factors that participants have to consider - mental states of the moral agent like intention, desire, awareness and knowledge, skill to actually perform the action and causal responsibility for the act. By using this set of factors, I will be able to show that scenarios used in experiments in these studies have in fact the same framework. And by comparing the results of these experiments I will demonstrate that the results of one experiment can actually add something interesting to the results of the other one. This analysis of scenarios and results will shed new light on several matters: i) philosophical theories about action theory and moral luck; ii) theory of mind (How folk actually perceive the mind of a moral agent?); iii) better understanding of folk moral evaluation (Which of the factors are by folk perceived as more important when evaluating moral behavior?); iv) better understanding of the “side-effect effect” and his possible explanations. Also, by using the set of factors I will present real-life court cases (along with the verdicts) with the same framework as scenarios used in presented studies, which will allow me to show that scenarios used in these experiments are not entirely unrealistic. By comparing these, I will demonstrate that these asymmetrical judgments people seem to have are a real threat to our legal system and by putting studies from different research branches into context can help us to better understand how these asymmetries arise and maybe even how to prevent them.
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