The role of self-sacrifice in moral dilemmas

  • Sachdeva S
  • Iliev R
  • Ekhtiari H
 et al. 
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Centuries' worth of cultural stories suggest that self-sacrifice may be
a cornerstone of our moral concepts, yet this notion is largely absent
from recent theories in moral psychology. For instance, in the
footbridge version of the well-known trolley car problem the only way to
save five people from a runaway trolley is to push a single man on the
tracks. It is explicitly specified that the bystander cannot sacrifice
himself because his weight is insufficient to stop the trolley. But
imagine if this were not the case. Would people rather sacrifice
themselves than push another? In Study 1, we find that people approve of
self-sacrifice more than directly harming another person to achieve the
same outcome. In Studies 2 and 3, we demonstrate that the effect is not
broadly about sensitivity to self-cost, instead there is something
unique about sacrificing the self. Important theoretical implications
about agent-relativity and the role of causality in moral judgments are

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  • Hamed EkhtiariInstitute for Cognitive Science Studies (ICSS)

  • Sonya Sachdeva

  • Rumen Iliev

  • Morteza Dehghani

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