Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, HBS
We study how people reconcile conflicting moral intuitions by juxtaposing two versions of classic moral problems: the trolley problem and the footbridge problem. When viewed separately, most people favor action in the former and disapprove of action in the latter, despite identical consequences. The difference is often explained in terms of the intention principle – whether the consequences are intended or incidental. Our results suggest that when the two problems are considered together, a different judgment emerges: participants reject the intention principle and embrace either the principle of utilitarianism, which favors action in both problems, or the action principle, which rejects action in both problems. In subsequent studies, we find that when required to choose between two harmful actions, people prefer the action that saves more lives, despite its being more aversive. Our findings shed light on the formation of moral judgment under normative conflict, the conditions for preference reversal, and the potential polarization of moral judgment under joint evaluation. Organizational implications are discussed.
Barak-Corren, N., Tsay, C., Cushman, F., and Bazerman, M. "If You’re Going to Do Wrong, at Least Do It Right: The Surprising Effect of Considering Two Moral Dilemmas at the Same Time." NFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences) 64.4 (2018): 1528-1540.