Intentionality, evaluative judgments, and Causal Structure

Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society 35:3390-3395 (2013)
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The results from a number of recent studies suggest that ascriptions of intentionality are based on evaluative considerations: specifically, that the likelihood of viewing a person’s actions as intentional is greater when the outcome is bad than good (see Knobe, 2006, 2010). In this research we provide an alternative explanation for these findings, one based on the idea that ascriptions of intentionality depend on causal structure. As predicted by the causal structure view, we observed that actions leading to bad outcomes are associated with negative social pressures (Experiment 1), that these negative pressures give rise to a specific kind of causal structure (Experiment 2), and that when these causal structures are pitted against the badness of the outcome, intentionality judgments track with causal structure and not badness (Experiment 3). While the badness of an outcome may have an indirect effect on judgments of intentionality, our results suggest that the factors that affect judgments of intentionality most directly are non-evaluative and objective.

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Jason Shepard
Agnes Scott College


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