Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in the New York Times:
Suppose the chairman of a company has to decide whether to adopt a new program. It would increase profits and help the environment too. “I don’t care at all about helping the environment,” the chairman says. “I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.” Would you say that the chairman intended to help the environment?
OK, same circumstance. Except this time the program would harm the environment. The chairman, who still couldn’t care less about the environment, authorizes the program in order to get those profits. As expected, the bottom line goes up, the environment goes down. Would you say the chairman harmed the environment intentionally?
I don’t know where you ended up, but in one survey, only 23 percent of people said that the chairman in the first situation had intentionally helped the environment. When they had to think about the second situation, though, fully 82 percent thought that the chairman had intentionally harmed the environment. There’s plenty to be said about these interestingly asymmetrical results. But perhaps the most striking thing is this: The study was conducted by a philosopher, as a philosopher, in order to produce a piece of . . . philosophy.
Check out the rest of Appiah’s piece on the new field of ‘experimental philosophy’, The New New Philosophy. Appiah has a book out next month called Experiments in Ethics that has more on this subject, and I can’t wait to get my grimy hands on it.