Can Substitution Inferences Explain the Knobe Effect?
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.
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