Most of you are likely familiar with the Side-Effect Effect by now. In a new article forthcoming in Philosophical Studies, Paul Stey, Mark Alfano, and I demonstrate that we can reverse the effect and therefore explain what the effect is as never before possible.
First discovered by Joshua Knobe (and hence sometimes called the Knobe Effect), the effect's hallmark is an asymmetric attribution of some psychological state or other. In Knobe's original study, the chairman of the board alternately harms or helps the environment as a side-effect of a new profit-increasing program. Knobe found an asymmetric pattern of attributions of intentionality in the two cases: the folk said he intentional harmed the environment, but he didn't intentionally help it. Since this seminal work, a literature on the effect has developed, expanding it in terms of the states asymmetrically attributed (intentionality, desires, beliefs, knowledge, etc.) and the type of norm involved (moral, legal, prudential, aesthetic, descriptive, etc.).
As the literature on the effect has expanded, it has become increasingly difficult to precisely characterize what the nature of the effect. While it initially looked like people were more willing to say a morally bad side effect was intentional, that interpretation doesn't hold up since the asymmetry is present in studies involving on non-moral norms. So what is the Side-Effect Effect anyway? How do we describe it? We can already say that the effect refers to the asymmetric attribution rates for various psychological states, but based on what? When are the attribution rates higher or lower?