Blame, not ability, impacts moral "ought" judgments for impossible actions: Toward an empirical refutation of "ought" implies "can".

Published

Journal Article

Recently, psychologists have explored moral concepts including obligation, blame, and ability. While little empirical work has studied the relationships among these concepts, philosophers have widely assumed such a relationship in the principle that "ought" implies "can," which states that if someone ought to do something, then they must be able to do it. The cognitive underpinnings of these concepts are tested in the three experiments reported here. In Experiment 1, most participants judge that an agent ought to keep a promise that he is unable to keep, but only when he is to blame for the inability. Experiment 2 shows that such "ought" judgments correlate with judgments of blame, rather than with judgments of the agent's ability. Experiment 3 replicates these findings for moral "ought" judgments and finds that they do not hold for nonmoral "ought" judgments, such as what someone ought to do to fulfill their desires. These results together show that folk moral judgments do not conform to a widely assumed philosophical principle that "ought" implies "can." Instead, judgments of blame play a modulatory role in some judgments of obligation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Chituc, V; Henne, P; Sinnott-Armstrong, W; De Brigard, F

Published Date

  • May 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 150 /

Start / End Page

  • 20 - 25

PubMed ID

  • 26848732

Pubmed Central ID

  • 26848732

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-7838

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0010-0277

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.01.013

Language

  • eng