Original survey question

Philosophers were given the following description of a study taken from the paper "Intentional Action and Side Effects in Ordinary Language":


Suppose some subjects are presented with the following case:


Harm: The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, 'We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.'

The chairman of the board answered, 'I don't care at all about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let's start the new program.'

They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was harmed.


These subjects are then asked to determine how much blame the chairman deserved for what he did (on a scale from 0 to 6) and to answer:


1. Did the chairman of the board intentionally harm the environment?



A different set of subjects are instead presented with the following case:


Help: The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, 'We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, and it will also help the environment.'

The chairman of the board answered, 'I don't care at all about helping the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let's start the new program.'

They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was helped.


These subjects are then asked to determine how much praise the chairman deserved (on a scale from 0 to 6) and answer:


2. Did the chairman of the board intentionally help the environment?


The philosophers in our study were then asked to respond to the following question:


On average, subjects asked question 1 would respond 'yes'

 

 

Results

(Note: all numbers and percentages report the number of respondents who did not select the 'Unable to provide an unbiased answer' response.)


In the first part of the study ("study 1"), respondents were given no further information about the subjects of the original study. A total of 83 philosophers responded in study 1 (while 83 indicated that they could not provide unbiased responses). The 83 responses were distributed as follows (as before, the answer which predicts the results of the original study is in bold):


total responses from study 1

% responses from study 1

significantly more often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

69

83.1%

not significantly more or less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

10

12%

significantly less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

4

4.8%


In the second part of the study ("study 2"), respondents were given the above question, and told to suppose that the original study involved 40 people in a public park in a large American city. A total of 65 philosophers responded in study 2 (while 37 indicated that thhey could not provide unbiased answers). The 65 responses were distributed as follows:


total responses from study 2

% responses from study 2

significantly more often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

48

73.8%

not significantly more or less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

10

15.4%

significantly less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

7

10.8%


In all, a total of 148 philosophers answered this question:


total responses from combined study

% responses from combined study

significantly more often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

117

79.1%

not significantly more or less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

20

13.5%

significantly less often than subjects asked question 2 would respond 'yes'.

11

7.4%

 

 

Comparison with original results

Knobe describes the results of the original study:


[T]he two conditions elicited two radically different patterns of responses. In the harm condition, most subjects (82%) said that the agent brought about the side-effect intentionally, whereas in the help condition, most subjects (77%) said that the agent did not bring about the side-effect intentionally. This difference was highly statistically significant.