This is an example of good data-collection with a poorly-worded abstract.
I think their main statement is this: "Our study illustrates that the widely adopted use of sacrificial dilemmas in the study of moral judgment fails to distinguish between people who are motivated to endorse utilitarian moral choices because of underlying emotional deficits (such as those captured by our measures of psy- chopathy and Machiavellianism) and those who endorse it out of genuine concern for the welfare of others and a considered belief that utilitarianism is the optimal way of achieving the goals of morality" (Bartels & Pizarro, 2011, p. 157). I would have to say that their statement on page 157 is warranted from their data, but the statement in the abstract is easy to misinterpret. The implication from page 157 is that it would be nice to add another part to these morality tests to see if people are responding from "considered belief" or from a gut-reaction. I would also like to see that.
The abstract sounds like they are questioning the choice of utilitarianism as the normative (proper) way to respond to ethical dilemmas, which their data does not address (and they state that explicitly on the next page, despite returning to that conclusion in the last two paragraphs).
The end of the article is where they break from the data and argue against utilitarianism as a normative (proper) standard of ethical decision-making. I wonder if the following statement leads to the disagreement between Bartels and Pizarro and those who defend the utilitarian norm: (after talking about slightly-psychopathic people who might exhibit more noble qualities when they are faced with an unlikely event that allows them to act for the greater good...) "Nonetheless the relative infrequency of such events would seem, at the very least, to undermine the validity of using these measures as a metric for optimal moral judgment in everyday life" (Bartels & Pizarro, 2011, p. 158).
The main body of the article indicates that the authors understand the data the way that I do, then we diverge at the quote above. Maybe the authors are arguing one of the following:
(a) from a biological or evolutionary viewpoint, it is the psychopathic traits that are our concern and that the total effect of these traits should determine whether we should call utilitarian philosophy normatively correct (are they therefore implying that we must become psychopaths to become utilitarian?), or
(b) mainstream researchers are observing a "marginal case" that does not apply to daily life, and we therefore need to apply (scientifically unsubstantiable) virtues/moral laws/religion as a basis for morality to fix every-day morality (and this would imply that they have evidence that utilitarian philosophy is worse than their deontology in daily life).
Here is how I see it: philosophy, to the extent that it does influence behavior (which might be very little according to Haidt, 2001), is relevant when people direct their behavior from conscious, moral reasoning. Even if only 1% of the people act from their conscious moral reasoning process instead of animal-instincts, the outcome
of killing fewer people is empirically observable and preferred when evaluated within the domain of objectively measurable evidence. Observing that people who score high on antisocial scales also respond a certain way on ethical scores does not impact the preferability of the final outcome of killing fewer people.
What seems unusual to me is the author's apparent interest in abandoning utilitarianism even though about the only substantial difference between utilitarianism and typical deontology occurs at the outer margins that they studied--and I don't think they denied the value of killing fewer people! In other words, utilitarianism is better in the rare case that they studied, and they still want to reject it to adopt something that is "no better" as a daily rule, thereby resulting in worse outcomes when the rare case does occur!
I (and my fellow empiricists) might be thinking of empirical outcomes
, such as fewer dead bodies. I suspect that we differ in our focus on "outcomes in the moral problem exclusively" versus the "outcomes of the traits that drive behavior," and I suspect that we differ in our acceptance of extrasomatic moral truths. I don't think people need to become psychopaths to be utilitarian, although maybe Bartels and Pizarro can test that. I don't see any psychopaths in this forum.
If anything that I say here is accurate, then maybe the authors should qualify that they don't like the process that some people use to get to the empirically observable outcome of fewer dead bodies and explain why that is the case.
Bartles, D. M. & Pizarro, D. A. (2011). The mismeasure of morals: Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. Cognition, 121
, 154–161. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.05.010 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ar ... 7711001351
Haidt, J. (2001). The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. Psychological Review, 108.
(4), 814–834 DOI: 10.1037//0033-295X. 108.4.814