Children’s Judgments of Epistemic and Moral Agents: From Situations to Intentions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Children’s evaluations of moral and epistemic agents crucially depend on their discerning that an agent’s actions were performed intentionally. Here we argue that children’s epistemic and moral judgments reveal practices of forgiveness and blame, trust and mistrust, and objection or disapproval and that such practices are supported by children’s monitoring of the situational constraints on agents. Inherent in such practices is the understanding that agents are responsible for actions performed under certain conditions but not others. We discuss a range of situational constraints on children’s early epistemic and moral evaluations and clarify how these situational constraints serve to support children’s identification of intentional actions. By monitoring the situation, children distinguish intentional from less intentional action and selectively hold epistemic and moral agents accountable. We argue that these findings inform psychological and philosophical theorizing about attributions of moral and epistemic agency and responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-360
Number of pages17
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by John Templeton Foundation Grant 60502.


  • children
  • development
  • judgment
  • philosophy
  • reasoning
  • social cognition
  • thinking

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review


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