Most Are Consequentialist

A new survey suggests that most Swedes think an act’s consequences matter most for whether it is ethical, and the young, rich, well-educated think this even more than most. Men are especially unlikely to think that violating someone’s rights matters. Young, well-educated, and big city folks are especially unlikely to think that it matters what is natural.

The survey:

The survey was mailed to 2,450 randomly selected adults above the age of 18 years in Sweden during the spring of 2004; the overall response rate was 45%.

The main answer distribution:

How bad an action is, from an ethical point of view, depends primarily on:
5.3% How bad the consequences of the action are for myself
62.7% How bad the consequences of the action are for other people and for society 
17.5% The extent to which the action infringes upon someone else’s natural rights
10.6% The extent to which the action violates what is natural
3.7% The extent to which the action violates Christianity according to the New Testament in the Bible
0.3% The extent to which the action violates the rules given by any other religion (such as Islam or Buddhism)

How answers varied with type of person:

Added noon: Bryan is skeptical:

When you pose specific moral questions, Jonathan Haidt and others show that almost no one is remotely close to pure consequentialism.

Yup, as Bryan emphasizes, on abstract political and moral topics where they have a weak personal stake, most people are confused and contradict themselves. Few folks are closely pure anything. So the best we can do is to see their tendencies amid the noise.

Added 5Jan: Bryan points out that I mistakenly added the word “natural” to the rights option. My apologies.

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  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I doubt Sweden is typical of the world in this manner. It is rather W.E.I.R.D.

  • Toni

    I really doubt the validity of this research. They’re asking far-mode questions. Why not ask whether they would kill a newborn baby to save five?

  • Thomas

    I also see a lot of selection bias here; people who don’t have the cognitive inclination to think about ethical quandaries are probably unlikely to respond to such a survey (assuming they were even included in the invitations in the first place). And “rich, well-educated” Swedes sounds like a proxy for high-IQ Swedes, which itself is a sub-group of “people living in Sweden” (i.e. the ethnic “Swedish” Swedes are more likely to be rich, well-educated and high-IQ, whereas immigrants from poor countries are more likely to be the opposite). Also, it’s been well demonstrated for decades that moral reasoning correlates pretty highly with intelligence, so the results of this present study are to my mind just a proxy for IQ.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      Unsurprisingly, the Swedish numbers are almost identical to the Less Wrong survey results, which find 62.4% consequentialists. (And 2.8% conservatives, which would also not shock me to find out about Sweden.)

  • groo

    …Few folks are closely pure anything…

    So the good professor RH is close to ‘purity,’ Bayesian style, ofcourse.

    Is this hybris, or what?
    Maybe You, good professor, should go into a pub with your GMU buddy Caplan and clarify issues, before You spoil the internetz, and accuse folks of being ‘contradictory.’

    …most people are confused and contradict themselves. Few folks are closely pure anything. So they best we can do is to see their tendencies amid the noise….

    Yeah.
    Wonderful conclusion, GMU-style.

    I am increasingly embarrassed by the outpouring of GMU b…t.

    Maybe I should fight You and your thoroughly defunct ‘logic’ more directly.
    Along the lines of Eliezer Y., who seems to have internalized the holy grail of everything.

  • groo

    btw, the near-far issue has been been investigated by Schopenhauer, in case You have not noticed, and has been settled once for all.

    And, yes, in a logical manner.

    But You did not notice, right?

    So You are behind the the track some 200 years.
    Well.
    So lets wait for another 200 years to come up with a reasonable suggestion, as to what this is all about.

    My Goodness.

  • http://twitter.com/robsica Rob

    This study is line with Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. It’s folks — conservatives — who score higher on the “Ingroup/Loyalty”, “Authority/Respect”, and, perhaps most tellingly, “Sacredness/Purity” foundations who are more likely to be deontologist. (It’ll be interesting if some Boehm-inspired “Liberty” foundation gets added to the scheme.)

    • groo

      and so, what tells us this, exactly?

      that RH is a f.. s.. s.. backward-minded extratopian deep-frozen singularitarian?
      I knew that.
      What’s new under the sun?
      Decode, please.

    • groo

      Rob, for all I can tell, You are a coward.
      You have no tenure, an so you hide behind codes.

      This is the new American cowardice.
      Say ‘something’ behind ‘nothing’. Or vice versa.

      Thus American thinking goes down the drain of cowardice.

      By the force of evolution compliant idiocy finally prevails, and the ultimate triumph is collective doom.

      Fine.
      Count me enthusiastic.

      • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

        What?

      • Kristoff

        I recognize that timecube style of writing. It seems like Groo forgot to take his haloperidol.

  • http://disputedissues.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

    People think, “Stealing is wrong.” Deontology. Why is stealing wrong? It harms the victim. Pseudo-consequentialism.

    • http://lesswrong.com/user/Jayson_Virissimo Jayson Virissimo

      There is nothing pseudo about rule consequentialism; it is a very reasonable position to hold.

  • groo

    “rule consequentialism”

    is it not just the projection of the working of mirror-neurons into the language domain?
    The Bayesian-estimator-community seems to be happy with that, but maybe some constructive-deconstructive thinking has to take place to find out what this all means.

    A lot of sociopaths are the most reasonable persons in the world.
    So why in the world my impulse is, to avoid being in the same room with them for more than a minute?
    Actually, the mythical ‘rational actor’ aka ‘homo oeconomicus’ seems to be archetype of the sociopath.
    Think about that for another minute, and it makes Your head spin.

    Must be some irrational impulse, right?

  • groo

    funny that ‘rule consequentialism’ can be traced back to Berkeley, who was an immaterialist, or pure idealist, in the German sense.

    „From the principles we have laid down, it follows, human knowledge may naturally be reduced to two heads, that of ideas, and that of spirits.“

    Should we add some Hobbesian Leviathan?
    A dose of Mark Twain?
    Anglosaxian Hip-Hop.

  • David Ellis

    When you pose specific moral questions, Jonathan Haidt and others show that almost no one is remotely close to pure consequentialism.

    Yup, as Bryan emphasizes, on abstract political and moral topics where they have a weak personal stake, most people are confused and contradict themselves.

    I don’t find that confused or contradictory that most aren’t pure consequentialists. It’s perfectly sensible to consider rights (in some sense of the word) a close second in terms of moral relevance to consequences and to want to balance the two concerns.

  • http://claytonlittlejohn.blogspot.com Clayton

    This seems like a very strange prompt:

    “How bad an action is, from an ethical point of view, depends primarily on …”

    Don’t most non-consequentialists agree that there is some sense in which the badness of an action is determined by consequences and rightness depends upon further factors? If you accepted Nozick’s view and thought that there were side-constraints, you’d think that two actions might be equally good/bad and differ in deontic status because one violated a side-contraint and the other did not. I don’t have access to the paper to see if this worry is addressed, but if most non-consequentialists think that the right is to some degree independent from the good, I worry that many (right thinking) non-consequentialists would agree that the badness/goodness of an action depends upon the total value contained in the consequences.

  • groo

    clayton

    that the badness/goodness of an action depends upon the total value contained in the consequences.

    well
    could it be the other way round?

    it is not the consequences, but the intentions.
    Ofcourse we know about the curse of good intentions.

    Intentions are (mostly) deductive,
    Consequences (mostly) are inductive, or retrospective in a sense.
    Or induce induction, in the sense that we reconstruct a fiction of causality
    It happened because….
    ‘Consequences’ are factoids, but can only be rightly interpreted by putting them into an endless stream of recursion, i.e. induction-reduction. …
    Right?