Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Person as scientist, person as moralist

Joshua Knobea1

a1 Program in Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8306


It has often been suggested that people's ordinary capacities for understanding the world make use of much the same methods one might find in a formal scientific investigation. A series of recent experimental results offer a challenge to this widely-held view, suggesting that people's moral judgments can actually influence the intuitions they hold both in folk psychology and in causal cognition. The present target article distinguishes two basic approaches to explaining such effects. One approach would be to say that the relevant competencies are entirely non-moral but that some additional factor (conversational pragmatics, performance error, etc.) then interferes and allows people's moral judgments to affect their intuitions. Another approach would be to say that moral considerations truly do figure in workings of the competencies themselves. I argue that the data available now favor the second of these approaches over the first.

Joshua Knobe is Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science and Philosophy at Yale University. He is one of the founding members of the “experimental philosophy” movement.