Can Simple Heuristics Explain Moral Inconsistencies?

Nadine Fleischhut and Gerd Gigerenzer

in Simple Heuristics in a Social World

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195388435
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950089 | DOI:

Series: Evolution and Cognition Series

Can Simple Heuristics Explain Moral Inconsistencies?

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From virtue theory to moral psychology to behavioral economics, a range of disciplines have explained behavior in moral situations by states of the individual mind, such as character traits, moral stages, or social preferences. These internal explanations predict that moral behavior is stable across a range of situations and thus struggle with the common observation of inconsistencies in moral judgment and behavior. In contrast, the chapter first outlines how the same heuristic predicts systematically different outcomes, ethical or unethical, depending on differences in the environment. Behavior that appears inconsistent from an internal point of view is actually consistent when the interaction between heuristics and social environments is taken in consideration. Second, this chapter argues that the heuristics determining much of judgment and behavior in moral situations are not specifically moral rules, but morally neutral heuristics that serve particular social goals. Specifying these processes can facilitate understanding when and why humans succeed or fail in pursuing ethical goals. The approach thus emphasizes the relevance of designing better environments, not just better people, in order to effectively promote the ethical goals valued by a society.

Keywords: moral judgment and behavior; heuristics; social rationality; ethical decision making; adaptive toolbox; moral psychology; virtues

Chapter.  10865 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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