Causation and norms of proper functioning: Counterfactuals are (still) relevant

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Description: Causal judgments are well-known to be sensitive to violations of moral and statistical norms. There is ongoing discussion as to whether these effects are both best explained through changes in the relevance of counterfactual possibilities, or if moral norm violations should be independently explained through a potential polysemy of the term ‘cause’. In support of the latter view, recent work has pointed out that moral norm violations affect judgments of agents, but not inanimate objects, and that their effects are moderated by agents’ knowledge states. We advance this debate by demonstrating that judgments of counterfactual relevance exhibit precisely the same patterns, and that judgments of inanimate objects are actually highly sensitive to whether the object violated a prescriptive norm by malfunctioning. The latter finding is difficult to account for through polysemy, but is predicted by changes in the relevance of counterfactual alternatives.

License: CC0 1.0 Universal

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