Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 6, December 2015, Pages 97–103
• Mental state inference is a foundational element of moral judgment.
• Its influence is usually captured by contrasting intentional and accidental harm.
• The folk theory of intentional action comprises many distinct elements.
• Moral judgment shows nuanced sensitivity to these constituent elements.
• Future research will profit from attention to the constituents of intentional action.
Mental state representations are a crucial input to human moral judgment. This fact is often summarized by saying that we restrict moral condemnation to ‘intentional’ harms. This simple description is the beginning of a theory, however, not the end of one. There is rich internal structure to the folk concept of intentional action, which comprises a series of causal relations between mental states, actions and states of affairs in the world. Moral judgment shows nuanced patterns of sensitivity to all three of these elements: mental states (like beliefs and desires), the actions that a person performs, and the consequences of those actions. Deconstructing intentional action into its elemental fragments will enable future theories to reconstruct our understanding of moral judgment.
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