Experimental Philosophy, Clinical Intentions, and Evaluative Judgment

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Recent empirical work on the concept of intentionality suggests that people’s assessments of whether an action is intentional are subject to uncertainty. Some researchers have gone so far as to claim that different people employ different concepts of intentional action. These possibilities have motivated a good deal of work in the relatively new field of experimental philosophy. The findings from this empirical research may prove to be relevant to medical ethics. In this article, we address this issue head on. We first describe a study we conducted on intention ascription. Drawing on recent work in experimental philosophy, we investigated the possibility that the ascription of intentions to clinical actors in clinical settings is influenced by prior judgments about the goodness or badness of the consequences of the action in question. Our study was modeled on experimental studies in other contexts that have shown that people, when presented with a range of scenarios, are more likely to classify a side effect of an action as intended if the side effect is negative or reflects poorly on the actor than if it is positive or reflects well on the actor. We investigated whether this asymmetry in intention ascriptions was also present among physicians who were asked to ascribe intentions to clinical actors in certain well-defined clinical scenarios. After describing the study and its results, we discuss its implications for medical ethics.
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Archival date: 2013-04-19
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