Benefiting From Misfortune: When Harmless Actions Are Judged to Be Morally Blameworthy
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Dominant theories of moral blame require an individual to have caused or intended harm. However, the current four studies demonstrate cases where no harm is caused or intended, yet individuals are nonetheless deemed worthy of blame. Specifically, individuals are judged to be blameworthy when they engage in actions that enable them to benefit from another’s misfortune (e.g., betting that a company’s stock will decline or that a natural disaster will occur). Evidence is presented suggesting that perceptions of the actor’s wicked desires are responsible for this phenomenon. It is argued that these results are consistent with a growing literature demonstrating that moral judgments are often the product of evaluations of character in addition to evaluations of acts.