The Samaritan's Curse: The Challenge of Group Morality

20 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2019

See all articles by Kaushik Basu

Kaushik Basu

Cornell University - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Brookings Institution

Date Written: September 15, 2019


The paper shows how concepts from game theory can shed light on the long-standing debate in philosophy concerning how we should distribute moral responsibility when a group behaves badly. The concepts make possible new answers to some vexing questions of moral responsibility and the rejection of some of the popular. The paper develops two new games, ‘After the Seminary’ and ‘the Samaritan’s Curse’, which illustrate the paradoxical result that individuals’ becoming moral can lead to immoral behavior on the part of the group. The findings caution us against quick conclusions about individual intent from observations of collective behavior.

Keywords: moral responsibility, paradox of morality, Samaritan’s Curse, Nash equilibria

JEL Classification: D62, D64, K13

Suggested Citation

Basu, Kaushik, The Samaritan's Curse: The Challenge of Group Morality (September 15, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Kaushik Basu (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Department of Economics ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Brookings Institution ( email )

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