The Moral Instinct: STEVEN PINKER

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?

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Joshua D. Greene: Solving the Trolley Problem

The Trolley Problem has baffled ethicists for decades (Foot 1978; Thomson 1985; Fischer and Ravizza 1992) and has, more recently, become a focal point for research in moral psychology (Petrinovich, O’Neill, and Jorgensen 1993; Greene et al. 2001; Edmonds 2013; Greene 2015). As the Trolley Problem’s interdisciplinary history suggests, it is actually two closely related prob- lems, one normative and one descriptive. The empirical research paper reprinted here (Greene et al. 2009) presents an approximate solution to the descriptive Trolley Problem. What’s more, it may provide essential ingredients for solving – or dissolving – the normative Trolley Problem.

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A Weird Way of Thinking Has Prevailed Worldwide

Imagine a country whose inhabitants eat human flesh, wear only pink hats to sleep and banish children into the forest to raise themselves until adulthood.

Now imagine that this country dominates the study of psychology worldwide. Its universities have the best facilities, which draw the best scholars, who write the best papers. Their research subjects are the flesh-eating, pink-hat-wearing, forest-reared locals.

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CONSEQUENTIALISM

Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.

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