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Friday, September 2, 2016

But Did They Do It on Purpose?

By Dan Falk
Scientific American
Originally published July 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In all societies, the most severe transgressions draw the harshest judgments, but cultures differ on whether or not intent is weighed heavily in such crimes. One scenario, for example, asked respondents to imagine that someone had poisoned a communal well, harming dozens of villagers. In many nonindustrial societies, this was seen as the most severe wrongdoing—and yet intent seemed to matter very little. The very act of poisoning the well “was judged to be so bad that, whether it was on purpose or accidental, it ‘maxed out’ the badness judgments,” explains lead author H. Clark Barrett of the University of California, Los Angeles. “They accepted that it was accidental but said it's your responsibility to be vigilant in cases that cause that degree of harm.”

The findings also suggest that people in industrial societies are more likely in general than those in traditional societies to consider intent. This, Barrett says, may reflect the fact that people raised in the West are immersed in complex sets of rules; judges, juries and law books are just the tip of the moral iceberg. “In small-scale societies, judgment may be equally sophisticated, but it isn't codified in these elaborate systems,” he notes. “In some of these societies, people argue about moral matters for just as long as they do in any court in the U.S.”

The article is here.