How we make moral decisions

Imagine that one day you're riding the train and decide to hop the turnstile to avoid paying the fare. It probably won't have a big impact on the financial well-being of your local transportation system. But now ask yourself, "What if everyone did that?" The outcome is much different—the system would likely go bankrupt and no one would be able to ride the train anymore.

Moral philosophers have long believed this type of reasoning, known as universalization, is the best way to make moral decisions. But do ordinary people spontaneously use this kind of moral judgment in their everyday lives?

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I would offer most people consciously or unconsciously just apply The Golden Rule. That seems to cover the large majority of cases one is apt to come across in day-to-day living.

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Most people are not able to be 100% consistent with their thinking.

The time when Universalizing is most used is when they try to convince someone ELSE of a moral truth.

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From the study with children it appears to have more to with intuitions and weighting fairness rather than determining a moral truth. Other studies have shown that children have a sense of fairness.

I think it is more than just that.

I was falling down the rabbit hole of Youtube the other day, and came across a few videos on lockpicking. One very interesting quip was locks are only good for keeping honest people out. With just a little bit of research it is rather easy to get past locks in a minute or less, and yet everyone uses locks. Why is that? It would seem that most people are inherently honest, and they respect social norms which includes not bypassing locks and stealing stuff.


I think your observations are valid - - and not mutually exclusive with a theory of when and how people Universalize.

Also, if everyone else is locking up their stuff but you, yours is by far more likely to be the stuff that gets stolen. Sort of the Universalization principle in reverse. :slight_smile:

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