Recent research has relied on trolley-type sacrificial moral dilemmas to study utilitarian versus nonutili- tarian modes of moral decision-making. This research has generated important insights into people’s attitudes toward instrumental harm—that is, the sacrifice of an individual 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 toward instrumental harm) and ‘positive’ (impartial concern for 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 although instrumental harm was associated with subclinical psychopathy, impartial beneficence was associated with higher religiosity. Importantly, although 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. (shrink)
Can advances in neuroscience be harnessed to enhance human moral capacities? And if so, should they? De Grazia explores these questions in ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We Value in Moral Behaviour’.1 Here, I offer a neuroscientist's perspective on the state of the art of moral bioenhancement, and highlight some of the practical challenges facing the development of moral bioenhancement technologies.The science of moral bioenhancement is in its infancy. Laboratory studies of human morality usually employ highly simplified models aimed at (...) measuring just one facet of a cognitive process that is relevant for morality. These studies have certainly deepened our understanding of the nature of moral behaviour, but it is important to avoid overstating the conclusions of any single study. De Grazia cites several purported examples of ‘non-traditional means of moral enhancement’, including one of my own studies. According to De Grazia, we showed that ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a means to being less inclined to assault people’. In fact, our findings are a bit more subtle and nuanced than implied in the target article, as is often the case in neuroscientific studies of complex human behaviour. In our study, we tested the effects of the selective serotonin reuptake …. (shrink)
The authors explore the interfaces between different dimensions of moral cognition, bridging economic, Bayesian and reinforcement learning perspectives. The human aversion to harming others cuts across these different interfaces, influencing decisions, judgments, and inferences about morality.
Tomasello argues in the target article that a sense of moral obligation emerges from the creation of a collaborative “we” motivating us to fulfill our cooperative duties. We suggest that “we” takes many forms, entailing different obligations, depending on the type of the relationship in question. We sketch a framework of such types, functions, and obligations to guide future research in our commentary.