Perceived Difficulty of Moral Dilemmas Depends on Their Causal Structure: A Formal Model and Preliminary Results

Barbara Kuhnert, Felix Lindner, Martin Mose Bentzen, Marco Ragni

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    We introduce causal agency models as a modeling technique
    for representing and reasoning about ethical dilemmas. We
    find that ethical dilemmas, although they look similar on the
    surface, have very different causal structures. Based on their structural properties, as identified by the causal agency models, we cluster a set of dilemmas in Type 1 and Type 2 dilemmas. We observe that for Type 2 dilemmas but not for Type 1 dilemmas a utilitarian action dominates the possibility of refraining from action. Hence, we hypothesize, based on the model, that Type 2 dilemmas are perceived as less difficult than Type 1 dilemmas by human reasoners. A behavioral study where participants rated the difficulty of dilemmas supports the models’ predictions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci2017)
    Number of pages2494
    PublisherCognitive Science Society
    Publication date2017
    ISBN (Electronic)978-0-9911967-6-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    Event39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (COGSCI2017) - London, United Kingdom
    Duration: 26 Jul 201729 Jul 2017


    Conference39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (COGSCI2017)
    CountryUnited Kingdom
    Internet address

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