27 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011 Last revised: 23 May 2012
Date Written: June 28, 2011
Moral dilemmas — like the “trolley problem” or real world examples like capital punishment — result from a conflict between consequentialist and deontological intuitions (i.e., whether ends justify means). We contend that people often resolve such moral conflict by aligning factual beliefs about consequences of acts with evaluations of the act’s inherent morality (i.e., morality independent of its consequences). In both artificial (Study 1) and real world (Study 2) dilemmas, the more an act was deemed inherently immoral, the more it was seen as unlikely to produce beneficial consequences and likely to involve harmful costs. Coherence between moral evaluations and factual beliefs increased with greater moral conviction, self-proclaimed topical knowledge, and political conservatism (Study 2). Reading essays about the inherent morality or immorality of capital punishment (Study 3) changed beliefs about its costs and benefits, even though no information about consequences was supplied. Implications for moral reasoning and political conflict are discussed.
Keywords: morality, intuition, cost-benefit analysis, motivated reasoning
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
By Dan Kahan