Moral Decision Making : Empathy as an Indicator for Utilitarian or Deontological Moral Judgments
Varana, Jessica L.
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Empathy and moral judgments are often lied together in media, politics, medical care, and many other social facets. While morality and empathy are often paired together, the nature of the relationship is not completely understood. The aim of the present study is to further examine empathy in relation to moral decision making. More specifically, this study investigates how empathy can be related to utilitarian or deontological moral judgments. When making a utilitarian moral judgment, an act is deemed good or wrong based on the overall consequences and promoting "the greatest good for the greatest number" (Mill. 1861/1998). A deontological moral judgment would be based on qualities of the action, not based on the consequences of the action, and whether the act is intrinsically immoral (Kant. 1785/1959). Participants' moral judgments were examined using four moral scenarios. In the trolley scenario, one of four scenarios presented, a runaway trolley is headed for five men doing repairs on a train track and will be killed unless a train station supervisor changes the route. The only way to save them is to hit a switch that will turn the trolley onto an alternate track where one workman is doing repairs. In the end, the train supervisor (the agent) decides to flip the switch, saving the five workmen but ultimately killing the one man. Results of the current study showed that the more participants empathized with the agent making the decision, the more likely a utilitarian moral judgment was made. In addition, the more empathy the participant had for the one man. the more deontological moral judgment was made. There was no relationship found between empathy for five men and moral decision-making. Implications and future directions are discussed.
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