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.
- Universalization: What if everyone did this?
- Rule-based: An implicit or explicit rule says I may not do this.
- Norm-based: I shouldn’t do this because many say not to.
- Outcome-based: How would it be bad if I did this?
Sydney Levine, Max Kleiman-Weiner, Laura Schulz, Joshua Tenenbaum, and Fiery Cushman / The logic of universalization guides moral judgment
PNAS first published October 2, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014505117