Suppose that a vice-president goes to the chairman of the board and says OK, we've got this new policy. It's going to make huge amounts of money for our company but it's also going to harm the environment. And the chairman says, look, I know this policy is going to harm the environment but I don't care at all about that, I only care about making as much money as we possibly can. So in fact they initiate the new policy and the environment is indeed harmed.
Now the question is, did the chairman of the board harm the environment intentionally? So what would you say in that instance?
Like 85% of people, I say he is to blame.
|The second vignette is very similar to the first one. What differs is just the moral status of what the person is doing. So suppose we keep everything exactly the same but we just change the word 'harm' to 'help'. So now suppose the vice president goes to the chairman of the board and says, OK, we've got this new policy, it's going to make huge amounts of money for our company and it's also going to help the environment. And the chairman of the board says, look, I know it's going to help the environment but I don't care at all about that, all I care about is just making as much money as we possibly can. So let's implement the new policy. And sure enough it helps the environment. In this case did the chairman of the board help the environment intentionally?|
This is From Joshua Knobe (2009). The philosophy of good intentions (podcast on ABC Radio National) but see also Joshua Knobe, Adam Cohen & Alan Leslie (2006). Acting Intentionally and the Side-Effect Effect: 'Theory of Mind' and Moral Judgment. Psychological Science 17:421-427.
Frank Hindriks seeks to explain this asymmetry by saying that praise depends on being appropriately motivated, whereas blame does not. Seems to me that just generalises the phenomenon rather than explaining it. (Frank Hindriks (2008). Intentional Action and the Praise-Blame Asymmetry. Philosophical Quarterly 58, 233: 630-41.)