Kahane, G**., Everett, J.A.C.**, Earp, B.D., Caviola, L., Faber, N.S., Crockett, M.J., & Savulescu, J. (In Press). Beyond Sacrificial Harm: A two-dimensional model of utilitarian psychology. Psychological Review.




Recent research has relied on trolley type sacrificial moral dilemmas to study utilitarian vs. non- utilitarian modes of moral decision-making. This has generated important insights into people’s moral attitudes to instrumental harm—i.e. to the sacrifice of one individual in order to save a greater number. But this approach also has serious limitations. Most notably, it ignores the positive, altruistic core of utilitarianism, which is characterized by impartial concern for the well- being of everyone, whether near or far. Here, we develop, refine, and validate a new scale – the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale – to dissociate individual differences in the ‘negative’ (permissive attitude to instrumental harm) and ‘positive’ (impartial concern about the greater good) dimensions of utilitarian thinking as manifested in the general population. We show that these are two independent dimensions of proto-utilitarian tendencies in the lay population, each exhibiting a distinct psychological profile. Empathic concern, identification with the whole of humanity, and concern for future generations were positively associated with Impartial Beneficence but negatively associated with Instrumental Harm; and while Instrumental Harm was associated with sub-clinical psychopathy, Impartial Beneficence was associated with higher religiosity. Importantly, while these two dimensions were independent in the lay population they were closely associated in a sample of moral philosophers. Acknowledging this dissociation between the Instrumental Harm and Impartial Beneficence components of utilitarian thinking in ordinary people can clarify existing debates about the nature of moral psychology and its relation to moral philosophy as well as generate fruitful avenues for further research.


This Oxford Utilitarianism Scale, as outlined in depth according to the 2D Model of Utilitarian Psychology, consists of two sub scales. The first sub-scale - Impartial Beneficence (OUS-IB) - consists of 5 items that all tap endorsement of the impartial maximization of the greater good, even at the cost of personal self-sacrifice. The second subscale Instrumental Harm (OUS-IH) consists of 4 items that all tap a willingness to cause harm in order to bring about the greater good. Researchers should compute mean scores for both subscales individually, and while it is recommended to look at the sub-scales separately all items can be combined to look at overall Utilitarianism scores.

Researchers should present items to participants in randomized order on a single page. Participants rate the items on a 1-7 scale (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = neither agree nor disagree, 7 = strongly agree).



  1. If the only way to save another person’s life during an emergency is to sacrifice one’s own leg, then one is morally required to make this sacrifice.
  2. From a moral point of view, we should feel obliged to give one of our kidneys to a person with kidney failure since we don’t need two kidneys to survive, but really only one to be healthy.
  3. From a moral perspective, people should care about the well-being of all human beings on the planet equally; they should not favor the well-being of people who are especially close to them either physically or emotionally.
  4. It is just as wrong to fail to help someone as it is to actively harm them yourself.


  1. It is morally wrong to keep money that one doesn’t really need if one can donate it to causes that provide effective help to those who will benefit a great deal.
  2. It is morally right to harm an innocent person if harming them is a necessary means to helping several other innocent people.
  3. If the only way to ensure the overall well-being and happiness of the people is through the use of political oppression for a short, limited period, then political oppression should be used.
  4. It is permissible to torture an innocent person if this would be necessary to provide information to prevent a bomb going off that would kill hundreds of people.
  5. Sometimes it is morally necessary for innocent people to die as collateral damage—if more people are saved overall.