The Influence of Situational Factors in Sacrificial Dilemmas on Utilitarian Moral Judgments

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 13 (3):593-625 (2022)
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The standard way to test alternative descriptive theories of moral judgment is by asking subjects to evaluate (amongst others) sacrificial dilemmas, where acting classifies as a utilitarian moral judgment and not acting classifies as a deontological moral judgment. Previous research uncovered many situational factors that alter subject’s moral judgments without affecting which type of action utilitarianism or deontology would recommend. This literature review provides a systematic analysis of the experimental literature on the influence of situational factors on moral judgments in sacrificial dilemmas. It analyses 53 articles in detail and reports mean effect sizes, as well as operationalizations, for 36 situational factors that significantly influence moral judgment. Moreover, the review discusses how the impact of situational factors relates to a dual process theory of moral judgment. It supports the view that utilitarian judgments are driven by controlled cognitive processes and shows that the drivers of deontological judgments depend on valence.

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Michael Klenk
Delft University of Technology


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