Daniel Bartels

The Costs and Benefits of Calculation and Moral Rules

Coauthor(s): Will M. Bennis, Douglas L. Medin.


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There has been a recent upsurge of research on moral judgment and decision making. One important issue with this body of work concerns the relative advantages of calculating costs and benefits versus adherence to moral rules. The general tenor of recent research suggests that adherence to moral rules is associated with systematic biases and that systematic cost-benefit analysis is a normatively superior decision strategy. This article queries both the merits of cost-benefit analyses and the shortcomings of moral rules. We argue that outside the very narrow domain in which consequences can be unambiguously anticipated, it is not at all clear that calculation processes optimize outcomes. In addition, there are good reasons to believe that following moral rules can lead to superior consequences in certain contexts. More generally, different modes of decision making can be seen as adaptations to particular environments.

Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science
Exact Citation:
Bartels, Daniel, Will M. Bennis, and Douglas L. Medin. "The Costs and Benefits of Calculation and Moral Rules." Perspectives on Psychological Science 5, no. 2 (March 2010): 187-202.
Volume: 5
Number: 2
Pages: 187-202
Date: 3 2010