Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 351–368 | Cite as

Explaining the Abstract/Concrete Paradoxes in Moral Psychology: The NBAR Hypothesis

Article

Abstract

For some reason, participants hold agents more responsible for their actions when a situation is described concretely than when the situation is described abstractly. We present examples of this phenomenon, and survey some attempts to explain it. We divide these attempts into two classes: affective theories and cognitive theories. After criticizing both types of theories we advance our novel hypothesis: that people believe that whenever a norm is violated, someone is responsible for it. This belief, along with the familiar workings of cognitive dissonance theory, is enough to not only explain all of the abstract/concrete paradoxes, but also explains seemingly unrelated effects, like the anthropomorphization of malfunctioning inanimate objects.

References

  1. Brigard, F., E. Mandelbaum, and D. Ripley. 2009. Responsibility and the brain sciences. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 5(4): 511–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Connolly, A., J. Fodor, L. Gleitman, and H. Gleitman. 2007. Why stereotypes don’t even make good defaults. Cognition 103: 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cooper, J. 2007. Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  4. Cova, F., Bertoux, M., Bourgeois-Gironde, S., and Dubois, B. 2012. Judgments about moral responsibility and determinism in patients with behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia: Still compatibilists. Consciousness and Cognition 21(2): 851–864.Google Scholar
  5. Dennett, D. 1987. The Intentional Stance. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Elliot, A., and P. Devine. 1994. On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance as psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67(3): 382–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Epley, N., A. Waytz, and J. Cacioppo. 2007. On seeing human: A three factor theory of anthropomorphization. Psychological Review 114(4): 864–886.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gray, K., and D.M. Wegner. 2010. Blaming God for our pain: Human suffering and the divine mind. Personality and Social Psychology Review 14: 7–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Guglielmo, S., and B. Malle. 2010. Can unintended side–effects be intentional? Solving a puzzle in people’s judgments of morality and intentionality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(12): 1635–1647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Knobe, J. 2003. Intentional action and side effects in ordinary language. Analysis 63: 190–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lerner, J., J. Goldberg, and P. Tetlock. 1998. Sober second thought: The effects of accountability, anger, and authoritarianism on attributions of responsibility. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 24: 563–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Machery, E. 2008. The folk concept of intentional action: Philosophical and experimental issues. Mind and Language 23(2): 165–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mandelbaum, E., and D. Ripley. 2010. Expectations and morality: A dilemma. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33(4): 346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mikhail, J. 2007. Universal moral grammar: Theory, evidence, and the future. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11(4): 143–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Morewedge, C. 2009. Negativity bias in attribution of external agency. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 138(4): 535–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nadelhoffer, T. 2004. Blame, badness, and intentional action: A reply to Knobe and Mendlow. The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 24: 259–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nado, J. 2008. Effects of moral cognition on judgments of intentionality. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59(4): 709–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nahmias, E., D. Coates, and T. Kvaran. 2007. Free will, moral responsibility, and mechanism: Experiments on folk intuitions. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31: 214–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Nichols, S., and J. Knobe. 2007. Moral responsibility and determinism: The cognitive science of folk intuitions. Nous 41: 663–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nichols, S., and A. Roskies. 2008. Bringing moral responsibility down to earth. Journal of Philosophy 105(7): 371–388.Google Scholar
  21. Prinz, J. 2004. Furnishing the Mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Prinz, J. 2007. The Emotional Construction of Morals. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Shweder, R., Much, N., Manamohan, M., and Park, L. 1997. The ‘Big Three’ of Morality (Autonomy, Community, Divinity) and the ‘Big Three’ Explanations of Suffering. In Morality and health, eds. A. Brandt and P. Rozin. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. 2008a. Abstract + Concrete = Paradox. In Experimental Philosophy, ed. J. Knobe and S. Nichols. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. 2008b. ‘Framing moral intuitions’ in Moral Psychology, Volume 2. In The Cognitive Science of Morality, ed. W. Sinnott-Armstrong, 47–76. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Sinnott-Armstrong, W., L. Young, and F. Cushman. 2010. Moral heuristics. In The moral psychology handbook, ed. J. Doris, G. Harman, S. Nichols, J. Prinz, W. Sinnott-Armstrong, and S. Stich. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Small, D., and G. Loewenstein. 2005. The devil you know: The effects of identifiability on punitiveness. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 18(5): 311–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Uttich, K., and T. Lombrozo. 2010. Norms inform mental state ascriptions: A rational explanation for the side-effect effect. Cognition 116: 87–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Emerson HallHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  3. 3.University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations