The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 119, Issue 9, September 2022

Justin SytsmaOrcid-ID
Pages 489-516

Crossed Wires: Blaming Artifacts for Bad Outcomes

Philosophers and psychologists often assume that responsibility and blame only apply to certain agents. But do our ordinary concepts of responsibility and blame reflect these assumptions? I investigate one recent debate where these assumptions have been applied—the back-and-forth over how to explain the impact of norms on ordinary causal attributions. I investigate one prominent case where it has been found that norms matter for causal attributions, but where it is claimed that responsibility and blame do not apply because the case involves artifacts. Across six studies (total N=1,492) more carefully investigating Hitchcock and Knobe’s (2009) Machine Case, I find that the same norm effect found for causal attributions is found for responsibility and blame attributions, with participants tending to ascribe both to a norm-violating artifact. Further, the evidence suggests that participants do so because they are using these terms in a broadly normative, but not distinctively moral, way.