Consistency in Degrees of Morality

Abstract

We examined people’s ability to judge the degree of morality of good and bad actions, and their consistency in doing so. Participants judged the degree of morality of actions on a scale from +100 (moral) through 0 (neither) to -100 (immoral). They judged the degree of morality for individual actions e.g., ‘a man intervened to stop a fight’, ‘a man gave blood’, and their conjunction, ‘a man intervened to stop a fight and he gave blood’. Most judgments were consistent, i.e. the conjunction was judged to be more moral or immoral than its components. However, a reliable number of judgments were inconsistent, i.e. the conjunction was judged to be less moral or immoral than one or both of its components. Consistency improved when participants read the conjunction after the conjuncts, compared to when they read it before. We discuss implications for understanding the mental representation of degrees of morality.


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