‘Utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas do not reflect impartial concern for the greater good

Year
2015
Type(s)
Author(s)
Guy Kahane*, Jim A.C. Everett*, Brian D. Earp, Miguel Farias, Julian Savulescu
Source
Cognition. (134), 193- 209
Url
https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2080
BibTeX
BibTeX

A growing body of research has focused on so-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilem- mas in which participants have to choose whether to sacrifice one person in order to save the lives of a greater number. However, the relation between such ‘utilitarian’ judgments and genuine utilitarian impartial concern for the greater good remains unclear. Across four studies, we investigated the relationship between ‘utilitarian’ judgment in such sacrificial dilemmas and a range of traits, attitudes, judgments and behaviors that either reflect or reject an impartial concern for the greater good of all. In Study 1, we found that rates of ‘utilitarian’ judgment were associated with a broadly immoral outlook concerning clear ethical transgressions in a business context, as well as with sub-clinical psychopathy. In Study 2, we found that ‘utilitarian’ judgment was associated with greater endorsement of rational egoism, less donation of money to a charity, and less identification with the whole of humanity, a core feature of classical utilitarianism. In Studies 3 and 4, we found no association between ‘utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas and characteristic utilitarian judgments relating to assistance to distant people in need, self-sacrifice and impartiality, even when the utilitarian justification for these judgments was made explicit and unequivocal. This lack of association remained even when we controlled for the anti- social element in ‘utilitarian’ judgment. Taken together, these results suggest that there is very little relation between sacrificial judgments in the hypothetical dilemmas that dom- inate current research, and a genuine utilitarian approach to ethics.