Hybrid Research Seminar
The trolley problem is a classical ethical dilemma that has been discussed for decades in philosophy. The dilemma and its variants are also popular in psychological research on human moral reasoning. The literature over the past two decades has demonstrated substantial variability in moral judgments across individuals and variants of dilemmas. For example, most people choose to switch trolley in the classical trolley case while most people choose to do nothing in the footbridge variant of the trolley case. However, most studies focus on the choices that people make and use their choices to infer the moral principles people may endorse (e.g., deontologist vs. consequentialist ethics). For laypeople’s moral decisions, we question the presumption that “doing choice” is the result of utilitarian reasoning, whereas allowing choice is the result of deontology. We argue that being sensitive to uncertainty is a prominent feature of moral reasoning. We present findings from a series of empirical studies to demonstrate the significant links between perceived outcome uncertainty and choices in moral dilemmas independent from various dilemma characteristics. We discuss the theoretical importance of incorporating uncertainty and human attitudes to uncertainty as a part of the discussion around ethical dilemmas.