Testing Three Principles of Harm

��Is moral judgment accomplished by intuition or conscious reasoning? An answer demands a detailed account of the moral principles in question. We investigated three principles that guide moral judgments: (a) Harm caused by action is worse than harm caused by omission, (b) harm intended as the means to a goal is worse than harm foreseen as the side effect of a goal, and (c) harm involving physical contact with the victim is worse than harm involving no physical contact. Asking whether these principles are invoked to explain moral judgments, we found that subjects generally appealed to the first and third principles in their justifications, but not to the second. This finding has significance for methods and theories of moral psychology: The moral principles used in judgment must be directly compared with those articulated in justification, and doing so shows that some moral principles are available to conscious reasoning whereas others are not.
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