The role of moral commitments in moral judgment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

75 Scopus citations

Abstract

Traditional approaches to moral psychology assumed that moral judgments resulted from the application of explicit commitments, such as those embodied in consequentialist or deontological philosophies. In contrast, recent work suggests that moral judgments often result from unconscious or emotional processes, with explicit commitments generated post hoc. This paper explores the intermediate position that moral commitments mediate moral judgments, but not through their explicit and consistent application in the course of judgment. An experiment with 336 participants finds that individuals vary in the extent to which their moral commitments are consequentialist or deontological, and that this variation is systematically but imperfectly related to the moral judgments elicited by trolley car problems. Consequentialist participants find action in trolley car scenarios more permissible than do deontologists, and only consequentialists moderate their judgments when scenarios that typically elicit different intuitions are presented side by side. The findings emphasize the need for a theory of moral reasoning that can accommodate both the associations and dissociations between moral commitments and moral judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-286
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive Science
Volume33
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

Keywords

  • Consequentialism
  • Deontology
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Moral intuition
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral reasoning
  • Trolley car problems

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