The Role of the Primary Effect in the Assessment of Intentionality and Morality


In moral dilemmas performing an action often leads to both a good primary and a bad secondary effect. In such cases, how do people judge whether the bad secondary effect was brought about intentionally, and how do they assess the moral value of the act leading to the secondary effect? Various theories have been proposed that either focus on the causal role or on the moral valence of the secondary effect as the primary determinants of intentionality and morality assessments. We present experiments which show that these theories have neglected a further important factor, the primary effect. A new theory is proposed that is based on the key assumption that people’s judgments of intentionality and morality depend on the strength of assumed reasons the agent has for the primary and secondary effects.

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