Manipulating Morality: Third‐Party Intentions Alter Moral Judgments by Changing Causal Reasoning

Cognitive Science 38 (8):1320-1347 (2014)
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Abstract

The present studies investigate how the intentions of third parties influence judgments of moral responsibility for other agents who commit immoral acts. Using cases in which an agent acts under some situational constraint brought about by a third party, we ask whether the agent is blamed less for the immoral act when the third party intended for that act to occur. Study 1 demonstrates that third-party intentions do influence judgments of blame. Study 2 finds that third-party intentions only influence moral judgments when the agent's actions precisely match the third party's intention. Study 3 shows that this effect arises from changes in participants' causal perception that the third party was controlling the agent. Studies 4 and 5, respectively, show that the effect cannot be explained by changes in the distribution of blame or perceived differences in situational constraint faced by the agent

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Jonathan Phillips
Dartmouth College

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