Apparent Paradoxes in Moral Reasoning; Or how you forced him to do it, even though he wasn’t forced to do it.


The importance of situational constraint for moral evaluations is widely accepted in philosophy, psychology, and the law. However, recent work suggests that this relationship is actually bidirectional: moral evaluations can also influence our judgments of situational constraint. For example, if an agent is thought to have acted immorally rather than morally, that agent is often judged to have acted with greater freedom and under less situational constraint. Moreover, when considering interpersonal situations, we judge that an agent who forces another to act immorally (versus morally) uses more force. These two features can result in contradictory response patterns in which participants judge both that (1) a forcer forced a forcee to act and (2) the forcee was not forced by the forcer to act. Here, we characterize potential psychological mechanisms, in particular, “moral focus” and counterfactual reasoning that account for this paradoxical pattern of judgments.

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