Experimental ethics, intuitions, and morally irrelevant factors

  • Peter KönigsEmail author


Experimental ethics continues to challenge conventional notions of moral cognition. This essay is about experimental studies that suggest that our moral intuitions respond to factors that lack moral significance.

In one study, Joshua Greene and colleagues have offered a solution to the notorious trolley problem. Rising from the armchair from which trolleyological research has traditionally been carried out, they have conducted experiments to find out which principles govern our intuitions in trolley dilemmas.1 They found that deontological intuitions are triggered by the conjunction of two factors. One factor is personal force. A dilemma involves personal force if “the force that directly impacts the other is generated by the agent’s muscles” (e.g. when one pushes the heavy person off the footbridge).2The other factor is the intention to kill the victim as a means to saving the other people (as in the footbridge case) rather than as a side-effect (as in the standard...



I wish to thank the anonymous referee, Chiara Brozzo, Christian Seidel, Emilian Mihailov, Hanno Sauer, Irina Schumski, Katharina Brecht, Leo Menges, Michael W. Schmidt, Nora Heinzelmann, Norbert Paulo and audiences in Karlsruhe, Porto, Saarbrücken and Tübingen for their valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyKarlsruhe Institute of TechnologyKarlsruheGermany

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