Doing, Allowing, and Enabling Harm: An Empirical Investigation

In Joshua Knobe, Tania Lombrozo & Shaun Nichols (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy, Volume 1. Oxford University Press (2014)
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Traditionally, moral philosophers have distinguished between doing and allowing harm, and have normally proceeded as if this bipartite distinction can exhaustively characterize all cases of human conduct involving harm. By contrast, cognitive scientists and psychologists studying causal judgment have investigated the concept ‘enable’ as distinct from the concept ‘cause’ and other causal terms. Empirical work on ‘enable’ and its employment has generally not focused on cases where human agents enable harm. In this paper, we present new empirical evidence to support the claim that some important cases in the moral philosophical literature are best viewed as instances of enabling harm rather than doing or allowing harm. We also present evidence that enabling harm is regarded as normatively distinct from doing and allowing harm when it comes to assigning compensatory responsibility. Moral philosophers should be exploring the tripartite distinction between doing harm, allowing harm, and enabling harm, rather than simply the traditional bipartite distinction. Cognitive scientists and psychologists studying moral judgment, who have so far largely adopted the bipartite distinction in this area of research, should likewise investigate the tripartite distinction
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