I'm new to this blog. I teach at Brooklyn Law School, where I'm director of our Center for the Study of Law, Language, and Cognition. www.brooklaw.edu/centers/cognition. Last fall, we had a conference called, "Is Morality Universal and Should the Law Care?" Papers will be published in the Brooklyn Law Review, and I will announce it when the volume comes out. Among the other contributors to the volume are Joshua Knobe, Adam Kolber, Ray Jackendoff John Mikhail and Bailey Kuklin.
For now, I would like to post a draft of my contribution to the conference. Its argument is that the asymmetry between the attribution of intent for positive and negative side effects is the result of different baseline assumptions that we have for the states of mind that accompany good and bad outcomes. Knobe may well be right that there is a moral dimension to the asymmetry, but that is because there is no single baseline half way between good and bad. Rather, we expect people to want the good outcomes they produce and to produce bad outcomes by mistake - not on purpose. We attribute intent in relation to these baselines. There are some interesting legal ramifications, especially in the law of torts, which regards known side effects as intentional acts.
Comments are welcome either by email or by posting them. You can download the paper here: