Intervention, Bias, Responsibility… and the Trolley Problem

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Sytsma, Justin; Livengood, Jonathan
preprint description
In this paper, we consider three competing explanations of the empirical finding that people’s causal attributions are responsive to normative details, such as whether an agent’s action violated an injunctive norm—the intervention view, the bias view, and the responsibility view. We then present new experimental evidence concerning a type of case not previously investigated in the literature. In the switch version of the trolley problem, people judge that the bystander ought to flip the switch, but they also judge that she is more responsible for the resulting outcome when she does so than when she refrains. And, as predicted by the responsibility view, but not the intervention or bias views, people are more likely to say that the bystander caused the outcome when she flips the switch.