Which Losses Do We Impose on Some to Benefit Others?
33 Pages Posted: 25 May 2014
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: Suggested Citation