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

  • Eric MandelbaumEmail author
  • David Ripley


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.


Abstract Case Concrete Case Concrete Condition Abstract Stimulus Norm Violation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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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

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