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The Trolley Problem: Has the Obsession with Sacrificial Dilemmas Derailed Moral Psychology?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Gabriela Pavarini.

The Mismeasure of Morals

David Pizarro

The use of sacrificial moral dilemmas as a method for studying morality has a number of limitations that are likely preventing progress toward understanding the moral mind. I will discuss two empirical lines of work that shed light on some of the problems inherent to the use of such dilemmas. More broadly, I will discuss the questionable empirical and normative assumptions that underlie how the the results from ‘trolley’ studies are often interpreted by scholars. I will argue that researchers must broaden the scope of investigation to include a greater diversity of approaches if we are to properly understand human morality.

Side Tracked by Trolleys?

Guy Kahane

Trolley dilemmas and their variants have utterly dominated recent work in empirical moral psychology. This is puzzling, since such dilemmas seem a strange way to study the core processes and mechanisms underlying our moral agency. The main reason that such dilemmas have nevertheless been so influential is that they are thought to shed light on psychological basis of the fundamental ethical division between utilitarian and deontological approaches to ethics. I will argue that this common assumption is based on a misunderstanding both of the original philosophical purposes of trolley dilemmas and of what empirical studies employing such dilemmas can show. I will end by sketching an alternative approach to investigating proto-utilitarian and deontological tendencies in the general population.

About the speakers:

Prof. David Pizarro (Department of Psychology, Cornell University) Prof Pizarro is a leading researcher in the area of moral judgments, intuitions, and biases. He is also studies the influence of emotion on decision-making, with a particular focus on how specific emotions (e.g., disgust, fear) impact information processing and interpersonal judgments.

Prof. Guy Kahane (Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford) Prof. Kahane is the Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He is a Research Fellow at Pembroke College and a recipient of a Wellcome Trust University Award. His research areas include practical ethics, neuroethics, meta-ethics, and value theory.

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