Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kill Whitey?

In Wired is a fascinating set of studies on race, politics, and "The Trolley Problem." In a classic psychology experiment, people are asked if they should flip a switch that detours a trolley away from running over five people to another rail that runs over a single person. The intention is to get at whether people are morally utilitarian or consequentialist. Other variations include pushing someone in front of the train.

The article covers research on introducing race and political leanings of the participants, with many fascinating findings. The conclusion (at least suggested by the article here) is that people adopt their moral reasoning ex-post, rather than employ it ex-ante:
So we’ll tell a child on one day, as Pizarro’s parents told him, that ends should never justify means, then explain the next day that while it was horrible to bomb Hiroshima, it was morally acceptable because it shortened the war. We act — and then cite whichever moral system fits best, the relative or the absolute.

4 comments:

Will Luther said...

I had an undergrad prof that said "Politicians use ideas like drunks use light posts, more for support than illumination." Perhaps the analogy is appropriate for humans, in general, and not just politicians.

Justin Ross said...

That is a great line!

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