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Cognition. 2008 Aug;108(2):353-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.03.006. Epub 2008 Apr 24.

Crime and punishment: distinguishing the roles of causal and intentional analyses in moral judgment.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Recent research in moral psychology has attempted to characterize patterns of moral judgments of actions in terms of the causal and intentional properties of those actions. The present study directly compares the roles of consequence, causation, belief and desire in determining moral judgments. Judgments of the wrongness or permissibility of action were found to rely principally on the mental states of an agent, while judgments of blame and punishment are found to rely jointly on mental states and the causal connection of an agent to a harmful consequence. Also, selectively for judgments of punishment and blame, people who attempt but fail to cause harm more are judged more leniently if the harm occurs by independent means than if the harm does not occur at all. An account of these phenomena is proposed that distinguishes two processes of moral judgment: one which begins with harmful consequences and seeks a causally responsible agent, and the other which begins with an action and analyzes the mental states responsible for that action.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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