Chronicle Profiles Philosopher Joshua Knobe
This is interesting. I'm not sure I fully understand why the people in the experiments say what they say or what it really means about intention and morality. I'd like to read the full paper. (And how the heck did he come up with this experiment?)
The Chronicle: 9/2/2005: Lessons From the Park: "He approached people in New York City's Washington Square Park, asking them to read two short paragraphs about a profit-hungry corporate leader who wants to pursue a certain business strategy. In the first example, the businessman is told that a side effect of the strategy is that it will harm the environment. But the businessman says he doesn't care, and sure enough, when he pursues the strategy, the environment is harmed.
In the second example, the businessman is told that a side effect of his strategy is that the environment will be helped. He says he doesn't care, and sure enough, when he pursues the strategy the environment is helped.
After each scenario, Mr. Knobe asked people: Did the corporate leader intentionally harm the environment? Did he intentionally help it?
Philosophers have reasoned that questions of whether someone did something intentionally are entirely about the actor's state of mind. When asked these hypothetical questions, conventional wisdom says most people would agree the corporate leader did not intentionally help or harm the environment.
But Mr. Knobe found that people's views of intentions depend on the outcome. People in the park said that the businessman did not intentionally help the environment, but that he did intentionally harm it.
'Joshua went out and did these experiments, showing that at least one common-sense psychological concept -- doing something intentionally -- isn't really a descriptive concept, it's a moral concept,' says Mr. Stich. 'Part of people's judgments about whether you act intentionally is what they take to be the moral status of what you've done.'"