Which Losses Do We Impose on Some to Benefit Others?

33 Pages Posted: 25 May 2014

See all articles by Mark Kelman

Mark Kelman

Stanford Law School; Stanford Graduate School of Business

Tamar Kreps

University of Utah

Date Written: May 23, 2014


Those who have studied the moral intuitions displayed in responding to Trolley Problems have focused on subjects’ willingness to cause the death of one party to avert multiple deaths. Here, we explore whether it matters what is being traded off: lives, injuries, or property, for a larger number of lives or injuries, or more valuable property. We find that aggregation – the willingness to sacrifice some party’s interests when others will gain more if one does so – is most plainly impermissible when the party is considering trading a smaller for a larger number of deaths, and it is least impermissible when the harmed party is merely injured or loses property to save others’ lives. Cases in which the harmed party is injured to save others from injury, or loses property to save more valuable property, are intermediate, closer to the death/death cases. If subjects simply followed either a simple rule that it is impermissible to sacrifice the interests or violate the rights of an individual for the sake of others or a simple rule that they should always seek to maximize aggregate utility, responses to these cases would not be expected to differ; however, responses do differ, which suggests that subjects’ judgments are complex and multi-faceted.

Keywords: moral reasoning, Trolley Problems, value commensurability

JEL Classification: D63, D64

Suggested Citation

Kelman, Mark and Kelman, Mark and Kreps, Tamar, Which Losses Do We Impose on Some to Benefit Others? (May 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2441353 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2441353

Mark Kelman (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
(650) 723-4069 (Phone)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Tamar Kreps

University of Utah ( email )

1645 E. Campus Center
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
United States

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