Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 1, pp 177–206 | Cite as

Reversing the side-effect effect: the power of salient norms

  • Brian Robinson
  • Paul Stey
  • Mark Alfano


In the last decade, experimental philosophers have documented systematic asymmetries in the attributions of mental attitudes to agents who produce different types of side effects. We argue that this effect is driven not simply by the violation of a norm, but by salient-norm violation. As evidence for this hypothesis, we present two new studies in which two conflicting norms are present, and one or both of them is raised to salience. Expanding one’s view to these additional cases presents, we argue, a fuller conception of the side-effect effect, which can be reversed by reversing which norm is salient.


Side effect Side-effect effect Knobe effect Norms Intentionality 



We would like to thank the organizers of the Experiments in Ethical Dilemmas conference (Natalie Gold, Andrew Colman, and Briony Pulford) and the Buffalo Experimental Philosophy Conference (James Beebe, Paul Poenicke, and Neil Otte), where portions of this paper were presented. We would also like to thank Urs Fischbacher, Shaun Nichols, Florian Cova, Zachary Horne, Derek Powell, Jennifer Cole Wright, Alex Voorhoeve, Josh May, Joshua Alexander, Chad Gonnerman, John Waterman, John Turri, Wesley Buckwalter, and Genoveva Martí for their insightful comments and questions. Finally, we would like especially to thank Fiery Cushman for suggesting the methodology in Study II and advising its implementation.


  1. Adams, F., & Steadman, A. (2004a). Intentional action in ordinary language: Core concept or pragmatic understanding? Analysis, 64, 173–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, F., & Steadman, A. (2004b). Intentional action and moral considerations: Still pragmatic. Analysis, 64, 268–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adams, F., & Steadman, A. (2007). Folk concepts, surveys, and intentional action. In C. Lumer (Ed.), Intentionality, deliberation, and autonomy: The action-theoretic basis of practical philosophy (pp. 17–33). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  4. Alfano, M., Beebe, J., & Robinson, B. (2012). The centrality of belief and reflection in Knobe effect cases: A unified account of the data. The Monist, 95(2), 264–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beebe, J. R. (2013). A Knobe effect for belief ascriptions. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 4(2), 235–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beebe, J. R., & Buckwalter, W. (2010). The epistemic side-effect effect. Mind and Language, 25, 474–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beebe, J. R., & Jensen, M. (2012). Surprising connections between knowledge and action: The robustness of the epistemic side-effect effect. Philosophical Psychology, 25, 689–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Cushman, F. (2008). Crime and punishment: Distinguishing the roles of causal and intentional analyses in moral judgment. Cognition, 8, 353–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cushman, F., & Young, L. (2011). Patterns of moral judgment derive from nonmoral psychological representations. Cognitive Science, 35, 1052–1075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hitchcock, C., & Knobe, J. (2009). Cause and norm. Journal of Philosophy, 11, 587–612.Google Scholar
  12. Holton, R. (2010). Norms and the Knobe effect. Analysis, 70, 417–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  14. Knobe, J. (2003a). Intentional action and side-effects in ordinary language. Analysis, 63, 190–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Knobe, J. (2003b). Intentional action in folk psychology: An experimental investigation. Philosophical Psychology, 16, 309–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Knobe, J. (2004a). Folk psychology and folk morality: Response to critics. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 270–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Knobe, J. (2004b). Intention, intentional action and moral considerations. Analysis, 64, 181–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Knobe, J. (2007). Reason explanation in folk psychology. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 31, 90–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Knobe, J. (2010a). Person as scientist, person as moralist. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 315–329.Google Scholar
  20. Knobe, J. (2010b). Action trees and moral judgment. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2, 555–578.Google Scholar
  21. Knobe, J., & Mendlow, G. (2004). The good, the bad and the blameworthy: Understanding the role of evaluative reasoning in folk psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 252–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Machery, E. (2008). The folk concept of intentional action: Philosophical and experimental issues. Mind and Language, 23, 165–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Maxwell, S. E., & Delaney, H. D. (2004). Designing and analyzing experiments: A model comparison perspective (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  24. Nadelhoffer, T. (2006). Bad acts, blameworthy agents, and intentional actions: Some problems for jury impartiality. Philosophical Explorations, 9, 203–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pettit, D., & Knobe, J. (2009). The pervasive impact of moral judgment. Mind and Language, 24, 586–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rose, D., Livengood, J., Sytsma, J., & Machery, E. (2012). Deep trouble for the deep self. Philosophical Psychology, 25, 629–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sripada, C. (2010). The deep self model and asymmetries in folk judgments about intentional action. Philosophical Studies, 151, 159–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sripada, C. (2012). Mental state attributions and the side-effect effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 232–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tannenbaum, D., Ditto, P. H., & Pizarro, D. A. (2007). Different moral values produce different judgments of intentional action. University of California-Irvine, Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGrand Valley State UniversityAllendaleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA

Personalised recommendations