Arnold Kling  

Intended or Unintended?

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An article in Prospect:


A company chairman is told a new project will increase profits but harm the environment. He says, "I don't care about harming the environment. Let's start the new project. I just want to make as much profit as possible." Meanwhile another company chairman is faced with a similar choice, except this time it will help the environment. He says, "I don't care about helping the environment. Let's start the project. I want to make as much profit as possible." When asked whether the chairman intentionally harmed the environment in the first scenario, most people say "yes." But did the chairman intentionally help the environment in the second scenario? Most people think not. This is weird. It led Knobe to conclude that people's moral judgements play a role in their concept of intentional action.

I think that experimental philosophy is an interesting field.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Greg Ransom writes:

I helped a psych professor at UCR put together "trolley problem" type morality questions for use "testing" undergraduates. The mind of an experimental scientist worked differently than that of the moral philosopher -- their "moral intuitions" were different, which was fun to see.

indregard writes:

I think that this issue is very well handled by the non-experimental wing of the philosophy of action. Although it is fun to explore the ambiguities of language, it is seldom possible to draw any interesting conclusions from such experiments. This case could be due to the ambiguity of "intentionally", which is a fairly technical concept in philosophy but an infrequent word in the real world. Joe Sixpack's on-the-spot, ad hoc definition of "intentionally" is probably a much more important factor than his "concept of intentional action".

rhhardin writes:

JL Austin, ``Three Ways of Spilling Ink'' _Philosophical Papers_

``Can we think of a case in which something is done deliberately but not intentionally? Certainly this seems more difficult. However, there are cases.

I am summoned to quell a riot in India. Speed is imperative. My mind runs on the action to be taken five miles down the road at the Residency. As I set off down the drive, my cookboy's child's new gocart, the apple of her eye, is right across the road. I realize I could stop, get out, and move it, but to hell with that: I must push on. It's too bad, that's all: I drive right over it and am on my way. In this case, a snap decision is taken on what is essentially an incidental matter. I did drive over the gocart deliberately, but not intentionally - nor, of course, unintentionally either...''

Jayson Virissimo writes:

The video can be found here.

happyjuggler0 writes:

The second chairman is an idiot. Anyone worth their salt knows that you can make lots of profitable brownie points nowadays by appearing to be green, whence the stupidity of his phrase "I don't care".

I realize that that is besides the point....

Stefano writes:

In my view, this is not a sign of anti-capitalist bias, but a more generalized phenomenon: a bad deed is despicable regardless of good intentions, while a good deed is commendable only if the intentions were also good.

I blame Christian ethics.

Philo writes:

This looks more like experimental (or empirical) lexicography--what do people mean by the word 'intentional'--than experimental *philosophy*. And even as lexicography it errs by assigning total validity to people's off-the-cuff judgments, ignoring their possible contrary *considered* judgments.

AB writes:

This could be valid to critique companies like Toyota. Did they produce a hybrid car because they care about the environment, or because they could make money off of people who think they care about the environment. I assume the later.

Same for compact flourescent bulbs. I would go even further to say that compact flourescent bulbs are popular because it saved people money in the long run (supposedly) with high energy prices. So, did most of the poeple who bought those light bulbs care about the environment, or their wallet? Again I would assume the later.

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