When killing the heavy man seems right. Making people utilitarian by simply adding options to moral dilemmas

Abstract

Trolley dilemmas are widely used to elicit moral intuitions. Most people do not think it would be morally right to push a heavy man from a bridge, thereby killing him, in order to avoid the death of several other people. Here we empirically tested a prediction by Unger (1996) who claims that adding more options to this scenario would shift people’s intuition from the normally preferred option of doing nothing to the utilitarian option of killing the heavy man. While not finding significant results with Unger’s original materials, an experiment with adapted materials confirmed the assumption that pushing one person is more likely to be preferred to not intervening if certain additional options are provided. Moreover, we found that moral intuitions are transferred from several-option cases to two-option cases (and the other way around). We discuss some possible psychological explanations for and normative implications of these findings. Keywords: moral judgment


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