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Hi Thomas,

Very glad to see that this volume is out, Turri's paper is in it, and you're discussing it here.

This is just a small question about the SEE literature, but one that's troubled me for quite some time. I think there are lots of people who say that the SEE is due to a speaker's moral judgments. Why should we think that the relevant judgments are influenced by a speaker's _moral_ judgments? I thought that we could get the SEE effect even if we describe cases in which a speaker doesn't think that the agent in the case was bringing about something that was morally bad (e.g., Harman's sniper heating the barrel of a gun, someone violating laws instituted by the Nazis, etc.).

Hi Thomas,

Thanks very much for this excellent overview! I share your enthusiasm, hope, and gratitude for Ergo.

Hi Clayton,

That's a good point. It's probably better to think of "moral" as standing in for a more general "evaluative." Also, if I say that this is about moral (evaluative) judgment, I should probably be more careful. I haven't done the work needed to show that it's judgment per se. It could be that other cognitive or affective states are mediating the effect of harm/help on knowledge attributions.

Thomas Nadelhoffer


I just wanted to make a quick observation: One could use the ESEE findings to raise the same worries about jury deliberations that I raised in my dissertation about SEE findings and juror ascriptions of intentional action. After all, if judging that a foreseen outcome is morally bad (or judging that an agent has a morally bad character) in itself increases ascriptions of knowledge of side effects, then jurors are unlikely to make impartial epistemic judgments about defendants' mental states in cases involving side effects. Consider, for instance, the mens rea elements often used in courts: purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. The ESEE findings raise the worry that jurors will underascribe recklessness and negligence and overascribe knowledge--especially in cases involving especially bad outcomes or especially unsavory moral agents. It would be interesting to see whether this is true. All you would need to do is ask more fine-grained questions. So, rather than only asking about knowledge full stop, you would ask instead about degrees of knowledge. For instance, you could ask about the likelihood the agent attached to the occurrence of the outcome. You could also just give them the three epistemic elements of mens rea--negligently, recklessly, and knowingly--with brief descriptions of each and ask which one best fits the mental states of the agents in the scenarios. If you found that the badness of the outcome or the badness of the agent biased people's ability to apply the mens rea concepts, that would be a nice finding. There is already some work on these and related issues by Fischhoff, Alicke and others. But it might be a fertile ground for extending the interesting work you're already doing!

p.s. I discuss some of my work on related issues in this paper:

John Turri

Hi Thomas,

I appreciate these suggestions for extending the research, and I suspect that the effects would show up. Just off the top of my head the citation doesn't occur to me, but I think that this has already been shown for probability judgments. So it's a small step from there to an effect on the attribution of probability estimates to others.

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