Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 667–679 | Cite as

Can Substitution Inferences Explain the Knobe Effect?

Regular Article


The Knobe effect is the phenomenon demonstrated in the course of repeated studies showing that moral valence affects the way in which we apply concepts. Knobe explains the effect by appealing to the nature of the concepts themselves: whether they actually apply in some situation depends upon the moral valence of some element of that situation. In this paper, a different picture of the effect is presented and given motivation. It is suggested that subjects apply concepts on the basis of substitution inferences. It is attempted to show that this picture is incompatible with, but preferable to, Knobe’s theory. In closing, some further observations and suggestions are given with respect to further research into the apparent effect of moral valence.



The following gave helpful comments on earlier drafts and presentations of this material: Shane Babcock, James Beebe, Wesley Buckwalter, Peter Carruthers, Roberto Casati, Theodore Everett, Michael Gifford, Michael Hunter, Benjamin Kozuch, Michael Levin, Hilary Martin, Patrick Ray, Thomas Reynolds, Travis Rodgers, David Sackris, and audiences at SUNY Buffalo, Texas Tech University, CUNY Graduate Center, York University and two anonymous referees.


  1. Adams, F., and A. Steadman. 2004. Intentional action in ordinary language: Core concept or pragmatic understanding. Analysis 64: 173–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beebe, J., and W. Buckwalter. 2010. The Epistemic Side-Effect Effect. Mind & Language 25: 474–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beebe, J. and Jensen, M. “Surprising connections between knowledge and intentional action: The robustness of the epistemic side-effect effect.” Unpublished manuscript. University at Buffalo, SUNY.Google Scholar
  4. Brogaard , B. 2010. Stupid people deserve what they get: the effects of personality assessment on judgments of intentional action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33:332–334.Google Scholar
  5. Cokely, E.T., and A. Feltz. 2009. Individual differences, judgment biases, and Theory-of-Mind: Deconstructing the intentional action side effect asymmetry. Journal of Research in Personality 43: 18–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hitchcock, C. and J. Knobe. 2009. Cause and Norm. Journal of Philosophy 106(11): 587–612.Google Scholar
  7. Knobe, J. 2003. Intentional action and side effects in ordinary language. Analysis 63: 190–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Knobe, J. 2004. Folk psychology and folk morality: response to critics. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 24: 270–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Knobe, J. 2009. Folk Judgments of Causation. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 40(2): 238–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Knobe, J. 2010a. Person as scientist, person as moralist. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33: 315–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Knobe, J. 2010b. Action Trees and Moral Judgment. Topics in Cognitive Science 2: 555–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Knobe, J., and B. Fraser. 2008. Causal judgment and moral judgment: Two experiments. In Moral psychology, ed. W. Sinnott-Armstrong, 441–448. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Knobe, J. and D. Pettit. 2009. The Pervasive Impact of Moral Judgment. Mind and Language 24(5): 586–604.Google Scholar
  14. Machery, E. 2008. The folk concept of intentional action: Philosophical and experimental issues. Mind and Language 23: 165–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Nadelhoffer, T. 2004. On praise, side effects, and folk ascriptions of intentionality. The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 24: 196–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sripada, C.S. 2009. The deep self model and asymmetries in folk judgments about intentional action. Philosophical Studies, 159–276.Google Scholar
  17. Tannenbaum, D., P.H. Ditto, and D.A. Pizarro. 2007. Different moral values produce different judgments of intentional action. Irvine: University of California. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  18. Ulatowski, N. (unpublished). How Many Theories of Act Individuation Are There?. Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Philosophy, University of Utah.Web. <>.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Santa CruzUSA

Personalised recommendations