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Durham University



Publication details for Professor David Over

Elqayam, Shira, Wilkinson, Meredith R., Thompson, Valerie A., Over, David E. & Evans, Jonathan St. B. T. (2017). Utilitarian Moral Judgment Exclusively Coheres with Inference from Is to Ought. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 1042.

Author(s) from Durham


Faced with moral choice, people either judge according to pre-existing obligations (deontological judgment), or by taking into account the consequences of their actions (utilitarian judgment). We propose that the latter coheres with a more general cognitive mechanism – deontic introduction, the tendency to infer normative (‘deontic’) conclusions from descriptive premises (is-ought inference). Participants were presented with vignettes that allowed either deontological or utilitarian choice, and asked to draw a range of deontic conclusions, as well as judge the overall moral rightness of each choice separately. We predicted and found a selective defeasibility pattern, in which manipulations that suppressed deontic introduction also suppressed utilitarian moral judgment, but had little effect on deontological moral judgment. Thus, deontic introduction coheres with utilitarian moral judgment almost exclusively. We suggest a family of norm-generating informal inferences, in which normative conclusions are drawn from descriptive (although value-laden) premises. This family includes deontic introduction and utilitarian moral judgment as well as other informal inferences. We conclude with a call for greater integration of research in moral judgment and research into deontic reasoning and informal inference.

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