Paper Moral Judgment and Decision Making
Moral rules are rigid. The 10 Commandments of the Bible’s Old Testament, for example, include unambiguous prohibitions, such as, “Thou shalt not kill.” Similarly, Kant’s categorical imperative is absolute: “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (Kant, 1785/2002; emphasis added). In practice, however, people often struggle to determine what is right or wrong. Our focus in this essay is moral flexibility, a term that we use to capture to the thesis that people are strongly motivated to adhere to and affirm their moral beliefs in their judgments and choices — they really want to get it right, they really want to do the right thing — but context strongly influences which moral beliefs are brought to bear in a given situation (cf. Bartels, 2008). In what follows, we review contemporary research on moral judgment and decision making and suggest ways that the major themes in the literature relate to the notion of moral flexibility. First, we take a step back and explain what makes moral judgment and decision making unique. We then review three major research themes and their explananda: (i) morally prohibited value tradeoffs in decision making, (ii) rules, reason, and emotion in tradeoffs, and (iii) judgments of moral blame and punishment. We conclude by commenting on methodological desiderata and presenting understudied areas of inquiry.
Published in: The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making
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