Ethical decision making under uncertainty: Seminar with Prof. Nigel Harvey from University College London

On Wednesday 7th March 14:30 – 15:30 in BS3034, where Prof. Nigel Harvey from University College London, will be giving a talk on ethical decision making under uncertainty. If you wish to attend please register your attendance on Eventbrite, places are limited.

Title: Ethical decision making under uncertainty.

Abstract: Trolley dilemmas are the ‘fruit flies’ of studies of ethical decision making. However, they are regarded unrepresentative of real ethical decision making.  There are two reasons for this: the problem frame is not typical of ethical decisions that people face and the decisions are not made under uncertainty. Here I report some of the first studies to introduce uncertainty into the switch dilemma and the footbridge dilemma. In the first case, people assessed the likelihood that they would flip a switch that would direct a trolley towards a single person instead of towards five people. In the second case, other people assessed the likelihood that they would push a man off a bridge into the path of a trolley to stop it continuing towards five people on the track. If the switch was not flipped or the fat man was not pushed, the five people had some % chance (0, 20, 40, 60, 80, unknown) of escaping in time; if the switch was flipped or the fat man was pushed, the single person or the fat man had those same % chance levels of surviving.  In both tasks, the probability of acting was directly related to the ratio of the expected number of deaths from not acting to the expected number of deaths from acting. This implies that people took a utilitarian (outcome-based) approach. However, all probabilities of acting were lower in the footbridge dilemma. This implies that people took deontological (act-based) considerations into account as well.

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