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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sacrificial utilitarian judgments do reflect concern for the greater good: Clarification via process dissociation and the judgments of philosophers

Paul Conway, Jacob Goldstein-Greenwood, David Polaceka, & Joshua D. Greene
Volume 179, October 2018, Pages 241–265


Researchers have used “sacrificial” trolley-type dilemmas (where harmful actions promote the greater good) to model competing influences on moral judgment: affective reactions to causing harm that motivate characteristically deontological judgments (“the ends don’t justify the means”) and deliberate cost-benefit reasoning that motivates characteristically utilitarian judgments (“better to save more lives”). Recently, Kahane, Everett, Earp, Farias, and Savulescu (2015) argued that sacrificial judgments reflect antisociality rather than “genuine utilitarianism,” but this work employs a different definition of “utilitarian judgment.” We introduce a five-level taxonomy of “utilitarian judgment” and clarify our longstanding usage, according to which judgments are “utilitarian” simply because they favor the greater good, regardless of judges’ motivations or philosophical commitments. Moreover, we present seven studies revisiting Kahane and colleagues’ empirical claims. Studies 1a–1b demonstrate that dilemma judgments indeed relate to utilitarian philosophy, as philosophers identifying as utilitarian/consequentialist were especially likely to endorse utilitarian sacrifices. Studies 2–6 replicate, clarify, and extend Kahane and colleagues’ findings using process dissociation to independently assess deontological and utilitarian response tendencies in lay people. Using conventional analyses that treat deontological and utilitarian responses as diametric opposites, we replicate many of Kahane and colleagues’ key findings. However, process dissociation reveals that antisociality predicts reduced deontological inclinations, not increased utilitarian inclinations. Critically, we provide evidence that lay people’s sacrificial utilitarian judgments also reflect moral concerns about minimizing harm. This work clarifies the conceptual and empirical links between moral philosophy and moral psychology and indicates that sacrificial utilitarian judgments reflect genuine moral concern, in both philosophers and ordinary people.

The research is here.