Causal responsibility and robust causation

Abstract

How do people judge the degree of causal responsibly that an agent has for the effects of her actions? We identify a relatively unexplored factor – the robustness (or stability) of the causal chain linking action and effect. In three experiments, we vary robustness by manipulating the number of background circumstances under which the action causes the effect. In the first experiment the robustness manipulation also increases the conditional probability of the effect given the action, and thus it can be equivalently explained under the principle of probability-raising. Experiment 2 and 3 address this concern, showing that robustness still affects judgments of responsibility when probability-raising is held constant. Experiment 3 introduces an Ellsberg type of scenario to manipulate robustness, while keeping the conditional probability and the skill deployed in the action fixed. The results show that in all cases, the perceived degree of responsibility increases with the robustness of the causal chain.

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