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The costs of being consequentialist: Social inference from instrumental harm and impartial beneficence

Everett, Jim A.C., Faber, Nadira S., Savulescu, Julian, Crockett, Molly J. (2018) The costs of being consequentialist: Social inference from instrumental harm and impartial beneficence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79 . pp. 200-216. ISSN 0022-1031. (doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2018.07.004)

Abstract

Previous work has demonstrated that people are more likely to trust “deontological” agents who reject harming one person to save many others than “consequentialist” agents who endorse such instrumental harms, which could explain the higher prevalence of non-consequentialist moral intuitions. Yet consequentialism involves endorsing not just instrumental harm, but also impartial beneficence, treating the well-being of every individual as equally important. In four studies (total N = 2086), we investigated preferences for consequentialist vs. non- consequentialist social partners endorsing instrumental harm or impartial beneficence and examined how such preferences varied across different types of social relationships. Our results demonstrate robust preferences for non-consequentialist over consequentialist agents in the domain of instrumental harm, and weaker – but still evident – preferences in the domain of impartial beneficence. In the domain of instrumental harm, non-con- sequentialist agents were consistently viewed as more moral and trustworthy, preferred for a range of social roles, and entrusted with more money in economic exchanges. In the domain of impartial beneficence, pre- ferences for non-consequentialist agents were observed for close interpersonal relationships requiring direct interaction (friend, spouse) but not for more distant roles with little-to-no personal interaction (political leader). Collectively our findings demonstrate that preferences for non-consequentialist agents are sensitive to the dif- ferent dimensions of consequentialist thinking and the relational context.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.07.004
Uncontrolled keywords: morality; deontology; consequentialism; utilitarianism; impartiality; person perception; partner choice; trust; pro-sociality; helping
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology > Social Psychology
Depositing User: Jim Everett
Date Deposited: 08 May 2019 18:51 UTC
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2019 11:58 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/73798 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Everett, Jim A.C.: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2801-5426
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