The logic of universalization guides moral judgment

TitleThe logic of universalization guides moral judgment
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLevine, S, Kleiman-Weiner, M, Schulz, L, Tenenbaum, JB, Cushman, FA
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Date PublishedFeb-10-2020

To explain why an action is wrong, we sometimes say, “What if everybody did that?” In other words, even if a single person’s behavior is harmless, that behavior may be wrong if it would be harmful once universalized. We formalize the process of universalization in a computational model, test its quantitative predictions in studies of human moral judgment, and distinguish it from alternative models. We show that adults spontaneously make moral judgments consistent with the logic of universalization, and report comparable patterns of judgment in children. We conclude that, alongside other well-characterized mechanisms of moral judgment, such as outcome-based and rule-based thinking, the logic of universalizing holds an important place in our moral minds.

Short TitleProc Natl Acad Sci USA

Associated Module: 

Research Area: 

CBMM Relationship: 

  • CBMM Funded