Markus Kneer
University of Zürich
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline medical professionals at intensive care units around the world faced gruesome decisions about how to ration life-saving medical resources. These events provided a unique lens through which to understand how the public reasons about real-world dilemmas involving trade-offs between human lives. In three studies (total N = 2298), we examined people’s moral attitudes toward triage of acute coronavirus patients, and found elevated support for utilitarian triage policies. These utilitarian tendencies did not stem from period change in moral attitudes relative to pre-pandemic levels--but rather, from the heightened realism of triage dilemmas. Participants favored utilitarian resolutions of critical care dilemmas when compared to structurally analogous, non-medical dilemmas—and such support was rooted in prosocial dispositions, including empathy and impartial beneficence. Finally, despite abundant evidence of political polarization surrounding Covid-19, moral views about critical care triage differed modestly, if at all, between liberals and conservatives. Taken together, our findings highlight people’s robust support for utilitarian measures in the face of a global public health threat, and illustrate how hypothetical scenarios in moral psychology (e.g. trolley cases) should strive for more experiential and psychological realism, otherwise their results might not generalize to real-world moral dilemmas.
Keywords moral judgment  values  Covid-19  utilitarianism  trolley problem  public policy
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2021
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul.Joshua Greene - 2007 - In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3. MIT Press.
Universal Moral Grammar: Theory, Evidence, and the Future.John Mikhail - 1912 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11 (4):143 –152.

View all 13 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Hit by the Virtual Trolley: When is Experimental Ethics Unethical?Jon Rueda - 2022 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 41 (1):7-27.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Moral Leadership During the Pandemic.Christopher Ryan Maboloc - 2020 - Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 30 (6):284-287.
Disability, Disablism, and COVID-19 Pandemic Triage.Jackie Leach Scully - 2020 - Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 17 (4):601-605.


Added to PP index

Total views
164 ( #70,462 of 2,499,053 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
81 ( #9,281 of 2,499,053 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes