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Throwing a Bomb on a Person versus Throwing a Person on a Bomb: Intervention Myopia in Moral Intuitions

Michael R. Waldmann and Jörn H. Dieterich
Psychological Science
Vol. 18, No. 3 (Mar., 2007), pp. 247-253
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40064727
Page Count: 7
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Throwing a Bomb on a Person versus Throwing a Person on a Bomb: Intervention Myopia in Moral Intuitions
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Abstract

Most people consider it morally acceptable to redirect a trolley that is about to kill five people to a track where the trolley would kill only one person. In this situation, people seem to follow the guidelines of utilitarianism by preferring to minimize the number of victims. However, most people would not consider it moral to have a visitor in a hospital killed to save the lives of five patients who were otherwise going to die. We conducted two experiments in which we pinpointed a novel factor behind these conflicting intuitions. We show that moral intuitions are influenced by the locus of the intervention in the underlying causal model. In moral dilemmas, judgments conforming to the prescriptions of utilitarianism are more likely when the intervention influences the path of the agent of harm (e.g., the trolley) than when the intervention influences the path of the potential patient (i.e., victim).

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