"Ought Implies Can,” Framing Effects, and "Empirical Refutations"

Philosophia 46 (1):165-182 (2018)
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Abstract
This paper aims to contribute to the current debate about the status of the “Ought Implies Can” principle and the growing body of empirical evidence that undermines it. We report the results of an experimental study which show that people judge that agents ought to perform an action even when they also judge that those agents cannot do it and that such “ought” judgments exhibit an actor-observer effect. Because of this actor-observer effect on “ought” judgments and the Duhem-Quine thesis, talk of an “empirical refutation” of OIC is empirically and methodologically unwarranted. What the empirical fact that people attribute moral obligations to unable agents shows is that OIC is not intuitive, not that OIC has been refuted.
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Archival date: 2017-09-18
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