Skip to main content

‘Utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial moral dilemmas do not reflect impartial concern for the greater good

Kahane, Guy, Everett, Jim A.C., Earp, Brian D., Farias, Miguel, Savulescu, Julian (2015) ‘Utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial moral dilemmas do not reflect impartial concern for the greater good. Cognition, 134 . pp. 193-209. ISSN 0010-0277. (doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.10.005)

Abstract

A growing body of research has focused on so-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilem- mas in which participants have to choose whether to sacrifice one person in order to save the lives of a greater number. However, the relation between such ‘utilitarian’ judgments and genuine utilitarian impartial concern for the greater good remains unclear. Across four studies, we investigated the relationship between ‘utilitarian’ judgment in such sacrificial dilemmas and a range of traits, attitudes, judgments and behaviors that either reflect or reject an impartial concern for the greater good of all. In Study 1, we found that rates of ‘utilitarian’ judgment were associated with a broadly immoral outlook concerning clear ethical transgressions in a business context, as well as with sub-clinical psychopathy. In Study 2, we found that ‘utilitarian’ judgment was associated with greater endorsement of rational egoism, less donation of money to a charity, and less identification with the whole of humanity, a core feature of classical utilitarianism. In Studies 3 and 4, we found no association between ‘utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas and characteristic utilitarian judgments relating to assistance to distant people in need, self-sacrifice and impartiality, even when the utilitarian justification for these judgments was made explicit and unequivocal. This lack of association remained even when we controlled for the anti- social element in ‘utilitarian’ judgment. Taken together, these results suggest that there is very little relation between sacrificial judgments in the hypothetical dilemmas that dom- inate current research, and a genuine utilitarian approach to ethics.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.10.005
Uncontrolled keywords: Moral judgment, Moral dilemmas, Utilitarianism, Psychopathy, Altruism, Impartiality
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology > Social Psychology
Depositing User: Jim Everett
Date Deposited: 08 May 2019 19:55 UTC
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2019 09:47 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/73828 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Everett, Jim A.C.: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2801-5426
  • Depositors only (login required):

Downloads

Downloads per month over past year