Cognitive Processes Shaped by the Impulse to Blame

10 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2005

Abstract

Many of the psychological processes used in assessing blame are also used in other, entirely non-moral aspects of human cognition. So, for example, we often end up thinking about causation when we are trying to determine whether or not an agent deserves blame for a given outcome, but we also use causal reasoning when we aren't at all concerned with blame and are simply trying to figure out why a particular event occurred.

Faced with this observation, one might suppose that the need to determine whether or not a person is blameworthy has had almost no effect on our cognitive capacities. Almost all of the capacities we use in assessing blame are also used for other purposes, and one might therefore conclude that they would have arisen even if we had been creatures who never showed the slightest concern for issues of blame.

I argue here for precisely the opposite conclusion - that the need to assess blame has had such a profound effect on our cognitive capacities that much of our ordinary cognition (even in contexts where we are not at all concerned with moral questions) has in some way been shaped by a need to reason swiftly and accurately about whether agents are deserving of blame.

Keywords: Blame, cognition, cognitive science, psychology, moral

Suggested Citation

Knobe, Joshua, Cognitive Processes Shaped by the Impulse to Blame. Brooklyn Law Review, Vol. 71, 2005, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=831284
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