Tag Archives: morality

Moral Orientation and Moral Decisions

Steven Pinker’s article in the New York Times, “The Moral Instinct” is wonderful. Thanks to Gene Expression for linking to it.

Pinker discusses the current state of research on moral reasoning, and I love it. Like me, Pinker’s skeptical of the “Kohlberg model,” and instead focuses on moral intuition. That is, we both focus on an OODA-loop like model that focuses more on Orientation and less on Decision. (The article is doubly-cool because I will be running a very similar study this semester.)

The Times article presents a number of moral dilemmas. In each of these situations, think what you would do:

Julie is traveling in France on summer vacation from college with her brother Mark. One night they decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. Julie was already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy the sex but decide not to do it again. They keep the night as a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other. What do you think about that — was it O.K. for them to make love?


. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge?


A runaway trolley is about to kill a schoolteacher. You can divert the trolley onto a sidetrack, but the trolley would trip a switch sending a signal to a class of 6-year-olds, giving them permission to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Is it permissible to pull the lever?

Ultimately, in the context of the OODA Loop, orientation makes sense for situations that are complex, and decision makes sense for situations that are logical. Because we live in a world that is typically complex and rarely logical, it makes more sense for us to follow orientation and bypass decision… and that goes for morality, too!