When we think about morality, many of us think about religion or what our parents taught us when we were young. Those influences are powerful, but many scientists now think of the brain as a more basic source for our moral instincts. The tools scientists use to study how the brain makes moral decisions are often stories, said Joshua Greene, a Harvard psychologist,citing one well-known example: "A trolley is headed toward five people, and the only way you can save them is to hit a switch that will turn the trolley away from the five and onto a side track, but if you turn it onto the side track, it will run over one person."It's a moral dilemma.
Greene and other researchers have presented this dilemma to research volunteers. Most people say they would flip the switch and divert the trolley. They say they don't want to kill someone, but one innocent person dead is better than five innocent people dead. What this shows is that people resolve the moral dilemma by doing a cost-benefit analysis. Greene says they look at the consequences of each choice, and pick the choice that does the least harm. In other words, people are what philosophers would call utilitarians. Except, Greene tells me, sometimes they aren't.
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