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


Causal judgments are well-known to be sensitive to violations of both moral and statistical norms. There is ongoing discussion as to whether both effects are best explained through changes in the relevance of counterfactual possibilities, or if moral norm violations should be independently explained through a potential polysemy in the word '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 highly sensitive to whether the object violated a prescriptive norm by malfunctioning. We then demonstrate that direct (non-moral) interventions on the the relevance of counterfactual alternatives affect causal judgments in precisely the same way as functional and moral norm violations.

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