Moral judgments about altruistic self-sacrifice: When philosophical and folk intuitions clash

Philosophical Psychology 24 (1):73-94 (2011)
Altruistic self-sacrifice is rare, supererogatory, and not to be expected of any rational agent; but, the possibility of giving up one's life for the common good has played an important role in moral theorizing. For example, Judith Jarvis Thomson (2008) has argued in a recent paper that intuitions about altruistic self-sacrifice suggest that something has gone wrong in philosophical debates over the trolley problem. We begin by showing that her arguments face a series of significant philosophical objections; however, our project is as much constructive as critical. Building on Thomson's philosophical argument, we report the results of a study that was designed to examine commonsense intuitions about altruistic self-sacrifice. We find that a surprisingly high proportion of people judge that they should give up their lives to save a small number of unknown strangers. We also find that the willingness to engage in such altruistic self-sacrifice is predicted by a person's religious commitments. Finally, we show that folk-moral judgments are sensitive to agent-relative reasons in a way that diverges in important ways from Thomson's proposed intuitions about the trolley problem. With this in mind, we close with a discussion of the relative merits of folk intuitions and philosophical intuitions in constructing a viable moral theory.
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DOI 10.1080/09515089.2010.534447
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Ezio Di Nucci (2012). Self-Sacrifice and the Trolley Problem. Philosophical Psychology 26 (5):662-672.
Vanessa Carbonell (2015). Sacrifices of Self. Journal of Ethics 19 (1):53-72.

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