Mar 22, 2007

when a tumor provides moral consistency

In a finding that's sure to set the world of moral philosophy ablaze, scientists report that it takes brain damage to make a perfect utilitarian:
The researchers presented participants with various scenarios... and asked them to make decisions based on the information provided. Some of the situations involved moral decision-making. For example, subjects had to say whether they would throw a person in front of a train if doing so would stop the train from barrelling into five workmen, killing all five.

In such a situation, most people would find it morally unacceptable to push someone to his or her death – even if doing so would save the lives of others. And this was the reaction of the healthy participants or those that had injury to brain regions excluding the VMPC. But people with damage to the VMPC showed a willingness to take this type of "utilitarian" action.

"You have one group that is ready to endorse what we would regard as an overly utilitarian judgment and the other far less" willing to do so, explains Damasio. He notes that the patients with VMPC damage generally made the same decisions as their control counterparts when it came to non-moral scenarios.
Damasio's other work has already demonstrated that "emotion" and "reason" aren't opposites, but necessary components of moral judgment. His classic example is that of a judge who had difficulty deciding cases after similar brain damage.

Also, in "normal" subjects, there's a big difference between throwing someone in front of a train to save five lives (generally seen as immoral) and switching the train to a different track to kill one instead of five (generally seen as moral), where no other alternatives exist. The method makes all the difference--and the difference is in our affect.

No comments: