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BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17, 1-42

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Nonconsequentialist decisions
Jonathan Baron
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
19104-6196
Electronic mail: baron@cattell.psych.upenn.edu

Abstract: According to a simple form of consequentialism, we should base decisions on our judgments about their consequences for
achieving our goals. Our goals give us reason to endorse consequentialism as a standard of decision making. Alternative standards
invariably lead to consequences that are less good in this sense. Yet some people knowingly follow decision rules that violate
consequentialism. For example, they prefer harmful omissions to less harmful acts, they favor the status quo over alternatives they
would otherwise judge to be belter, they provide third-party compensation on the basis of the cause of an injury rather than the
benefit from the compensation, they ignore deterrent effects in decisions about punishment, and they resist coercive reforms they
judge to be beneficial. I suggest that nonconsequentialist principles arise from overgeneralizing rules that are consistent with
consequentialism in a limited set of cases. Commitment to such rules is detached from their original purposes. The existence of such
nonconsequentialist decision biases has implications for philosophical and experimental methodology, the relation between
psychology and public policy, and education.

Keywords: bias; consequentialism; decision; goals; intuition; irrationality; judgment; normative models; norms; omission; over-
generalization; utility

1. Introduction 1989 and Kyburg: "Induction and Probability" BBS 9(4)


1986. Ed.]
Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato started a tradition of eval- Allais (1953) and Ellsberg (1961) noted departures from
uating human reasoning according to standards that ap- the expected-utility theory of decision making fairly early.
plied to the reasoning itself rather than to its conclusions. At the time, that theory was understood as both a norma-
We now maintain such standards through schools, child- tive model, specifying how people should make decisions
rearing, and public and private discourse. The best- ideally, and as a descriptive model, predicting and ex-
known standards apply to logic, and standards have also plaining how decisions are actually made. Economists
been applied to practical and moral reasoning. To accuse were not bothered by the idea that a single model could
someone of being "illogical" or "unreasonable" is to ex- do both jobs, for they had clone well by assuming that
press such standards, even when the accuser is motivated people are approximately rational. Demonstrations that
by a dislike of the conclusion rather than the means of people sometimes violated expected-utility theory were
reaching it. at first taken to imply that the model was incorrect both
A long tradition in psychology concerns the evaluation descriptively and normatively (Allais 1953; Ellsberg
of human reasoning with respect to standards of this sort. 1961).
Evaluation of reasoning was explicit in the study of logic Kahneman and Tversky (1979) suggested that a dis-
(Evans 1989; Woodworth & Schlosberg 1954) problem- tinction between normative and descriptive models was
solving (Wertheimer 1959); cognitive development (e.g., warranted in decision making as well as elsewhere.
Kohlberg 1970; Sharp et al. 1979); and the social psychol- Expected-utility theory could be normatively correct but
ogy of stereotyping, obedience to illegitimate authority, descriptively incorrect. They proposed "prospect theory"
excessive conformity, and self-serving judgments (Nisbett as an alternative descriptive model.
& Ross 1980; Sabini 1992). The suggestion that people were behaving nonnor-
In the 1950s, this tradition was extended to the study of matively was defended most clearly by reference to fram-
judgments and decisions, using statistics, probability the- ing effects (Kahneman & Tversky 1984): people make
ory, and decision theory as standards. Early results (Pe- different decisions in (what they would easily recognize
terson & Beach 1967; Tversky 1967) indicated that people as) the same situations described differently. For exam-
were at least sensitive to the right variables. For example, ple, most people prefer a 20% chance of winning $45 over
people are more confident in numerical estimates based a 25% chance of $30, but if they have a 75% chance of
on larger samples, although, not surprisingly, the effect of winning nothing and a 25% chance of a choice between
sample size is not exactly what the formula says it should $30 for sure and an 80% chance of $45, they say they will
be. Beginning about 1970, however, Kahneman and pick the $30 if they get the choice. The latter choice was
Tversky (e.g., 1972) began to show qualitative departures thought to result from an exaggerated weight given to
from these standards; for example, judgments are some- outcomes that are certain, a certainty effect. Presentation
times completely insensitive to sample size. [See also of the gamble as a two-stage lottery induced subjects to
Cohen: "Multiple Mechanisms for Partitioning: BBS 12(4) see the $30 as certain (if they got the chance to choose it).

© 1994 Cambridge University Press 0140-525X194 $5.00+.00


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
Because such choices are, in a sense, contradictory, they 2. Consequentialism as a normative model
cannot be normatively correct. Hence, separate norma-
tive and descriptive models may be needed, and certain Here, I shall briefly defend a simple normative model
rules of decision making (such as the certainty effect) may according to which the best decisions are those that yield
be seen as errors, in the sense that they depart from a the best consequences for achieving people's goals. Goals
normative model. Although Kahneman and Tversky did are criteria by which people evaluate states of affairs, for
not defend expected-utility theory itself, it seems that the example, rank them as better or worse. Examples of goals
only way to avoid all the framing effects they have found is are financial security, maintenance of personal relation-
to follow that theory (e.g., Hammond 1988). ships, social good, or more immediate goals such as
I want to defend an approach to the study of errors in satisfying a thirst.
decision making based on a comparison of decisions to Various forms of consequentialism have been devel-
normative models. I shall argue that this approach is a oped, including expected-utility theory and utilitari-
natural extension of the psychology of reasoning errors anism. I have defended these particular versions else-
and that it has some practical importance. Decisions (and where (Baron 1993b). For present purposes, consequen-
judgments) have consequences. By improving decisions, tialism holds simply that the decision should be deter-
we might, on the average, improve the consequences. mined by all-things-considered judgments of overall ex-
Many of the consequences that people often lament are pected goal achievement in the states to which those
the result of human decisions, such as those made by decisions immediately lead. In this simple form of conse-
political leaders (and, implicitly, by those who elect quentialism, the states are assumed to be evaluated ho-
them). If we can improve decision making, we can im- listically, but these holistic evaluations take into account
prove our lives. probabilities of subsequent states and the distribution of
Psychologists can make errors, too, but we can make goal achievement across individuals. Suppose, for exam-
errors of omission as well as errors of commission. If we ple, that the choice is between government programs A
fail to point out an error that should be corrected, the and B, each affecting many people in uncertain ways. If I
error continues to be made. Errors of commission have an judge that the state of affairs resulting from A is, on the
extra cost. If we mistakenly try to change some pattern of
whole, a better one than that resulting from B for the
reasoning that is not really erroneous, we not only risk
achievement of goals, then consequentialism dictates that
making reasoning worse but we also reduce our credibil-
I should choose A. It is irrelevant that program B may,
ity. Arguably, this has happened for many "pop psycholo-
through luck, turn out to have been better. In sum,
gists." Still, we cannot wait for perfect confidence, or we
judgment of expected consequences should determine
will never act. Academic caution is not the only virtue.
decisions.
The basic approach I shall take here (Baron 1985;
To argue for this kind of consequentialism, I must ask
1988a) is to consider three types of accounts or "models" of
where normative models come from, what their justifica-
decision making. Normative accounts are those that spec-
tion could be. I take the idea of a normative model to be an
ify a standard by which decision making will be evaluated.
abstraction from various forms of behavior that I de-
Descriptive accounts tell us how decision making pro-
scribed at' the outset, specifically those in which we
ceeds in fact. Of particular interest are aspects of decision
making that seem nonnormative. If we find such phenom- express our endorsement of norms (in roughly the sense
ena, we know there is room for improvement. Prescrip- of Gibbard 1990), that is, standards of reasoning. The
tive accounts are designs for improving decision making. basic function of such endorsement is to induce others to
They can take the form of very practical advice for every- conform to these norms. What reasons could we have for
day decision making (Baron et al. 1991) or formal schemes endorsing norms?
of analysis (Bell et al. 1988). A systematic departure from a Self-interest and altruism gives us such reasons. Self-
normative model can be called an error or a bias, but interest gives us reason to endorse norms, such as the
calling it this is of no use if the error cannot be corrected. Golden Rule, with which we exhort others to help us or to
Therefore, the ultimate standards are prescriptive. The refrain from hurting us. Altruism motivates the same
prescriptive standards that we should try to find will norms: we tell people to be nice to other people. And
represent the best rules to follow for making decisions, altruism gives us reason to endorse norms for the pursuit
taking into account human limitations in following any of self-interest. We care about others so we want to teach
standard absolutely. Normative standards are theoretical, them how to get what they want. Indirectly, advocacy of
to be appealed to in the evaluation of prescriptive rules or such norms helps the advocate to follow them, so we also
individual decisions. have a self-interested reason to endorse them.
It might be argued that norms themselves can provide
In the rest of this target article, I shall outline a nor- reasons for their own endorsement. For example, those
mative model of decision making. I shall then summarize who think active euthanasia should be either legal or
some departures from that model, mostly based on my illegal want others to agree with them. But in any inquiry
own work and that of my colleagues. Most of these about what norms we should endorse, it is important that
departures involve following rules or norms that agree we put aside the norms we already have, lest we beg the
with the normative model much of the time. Departures question. In thinking about my own normative standards,
based on more pernicious rules (e.g., racist ones) doubt- I put aside the goals that derive from those standards,
less occur too, but less often. I shall discuss the meth- although I must treat other people's goals as given when I
odological implications of these departures for philosophy think about what is best for them.
and psychology and their prescriptive implications for If goal achievement gives us reasons to endorse norms,
public policy and education. then, other things being equal, we should endorse norms

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

that help us achieve our goals (collectively, because our helps her achieve her goal of living. We would each want
reasons are both altruistic and selfish). Other things are one another to act in this way, so we all have reason to
equal, I suggest, because we have no other reasons for endorse this norm. Following Hare (1963), I shall call this
endorsing norms. Goals are, by definition, the motives kind of argument a Golden Rule argument.
we have for doing anything. We need not decide here on If you have a goal of not putting others at risk through
the appropriate balance of goals of self versus others. This acts in particular and if this inhibits you from vaccinating
issue does not arise in the examples I shall discuss. the girl, she is hurt. She has reason to discourage you from
For example, consider two possible norms concerning holding such a goal. It is in her interest for your goals
acts and omissions that affect others. One norm opposes about your decisions to be concerned only with their
harmful acts. Another opposes both harmful acts and consequences. Of course, altruistically, she might be
omissions, without regard to the distinction. The second concerned with your own goals about your decisions, so
norm requires people to help other people when the she might conclude that it is on the whole better for you
judged total harm from not helping exceeds that from not to vaccinate her. But she has no general reason - apart
helping. Harm includes everything relevant to goal from what she knows about you in particular - to endorse
achievement, including effort and potential regret. a norm for you that prescribes nonvaccination. The norms
Which norm should I want others to follow? If others we have selfish reason to endorse are those concerned
follow the first, more limited, norm, my goals will not be only with consequences, because those are what affect us.
achieved as well, because I would lose the benefit of Even when we endorse norms out of altruism, we have
people helping me when the total benefits exceed the no general reason to endorse a norm treating acts and
costs. I therefore have reason to endorse a norm that does omissions differently. You might have a goal of not Causing
not distinguish acts and omissions, and I have no reason to harm to yourself through acts, so you might not vaccinate
distinguish acts and omissions as such in the norms I yourself. Such a goal would make it more harmful for me
endorse. Once I endorse this norm, those who accept it to force you to vaccinate yourself, for I would go against
will want me to follow it, too, but if I hold back my that goal. But I have no reason, altruistic or selfish, to
endorsement for this reason, I will lose credibility (Baron endorse a norm that leads you to have such a goal if you do
1993b). not already have it, for it will not help you achieve your
Suppose 1 have a goal opposing harmful action but not other goals, or mine.
opposing harmful omission. This goal is not derived from This kind of argument concerning the act-omission
my moral intuitions or commitments, which we have put distinction differs from other approaches to this issue (see
aside. In this case, I would have reason to endorse the Kuhse 1987, for an enlightening review). Most of these
limited norm. The more people who have such a (non- are based on intuitions about cases as data to be accounted
moral) goal, the more reason we all have to endorse this for (e.g., the articles in Fischer & Ravizza 1992). Yet, it is
norm (out of altruism, at least). But consequentialism just these intuitions that are at issue. I suggest that many
would not be violated, for adherence to the norm would in of them arise from overgeneralizations, to which people -
fact achieve people's nonmoral goals. Although this argu- even those who become moral philosophers — become
ment leads to a consequentialist justification for a norm committed in the course of their development. In this
distinguishing acts and omissions, the argument is contin- case, for example, harmful acts are usually more inten-
gent on a (dubious) assumption about human desires. tional than harmful omissions, and hence, more blame-
Consider the case of active versus passive euthanasia. worthy. But intention is not different in the cases just
Suppose we believe that there are conditions under discussed. People continue to distinguish acts and omis-
which most people would want life-sustaining treatment sions, however, even when the feature that typically
withheld but would not want to be actively killed. Then, if makes them different is absent.
we do not know what a patient wants, this belief would This same argument will apply to the other kinds of
justify a distinction. However, if we know that the patient norms I shall discuss. In general, the function of norma-
has no goals concerning the distinction, we have no reason tive models for decision making (as described earlier) is
to make it on the patient's behalf. (Likewise, the slippery- not served by any norms other than those that specify
slope argument that active euthanasia will lead to reduced attaining the best consequences, in terms of goal achieve-
respect for life depends on a contingent fact that could be ment. And those norms should not encourage people to
taken into account if it were true. The slippery slope could have any goals for decision making other than achieving
also go the other way: refraining from active euthanasia the best consequences. We might be able to go farther
could lead to errors of misallocation of resources and the than this, specifying norms for the analysis of decisions
consequent neglect of suffering.) Our decision would into utilities and probabilities, for example, but the exam-
depend on whether death itself was to be preferred, not ples discussed do not require such analysis. (Although the
on the way in which death comes about (assuming that the vaccination case involved probabilities, I simply assumed
means of death have no other relevant consequences of that anyone would judge a lower risk of death to be a
their own for people's goals). In sum, we do not neces- better state of affairs: no trading off of probability and
sarily have any reason to want each other to honor a utility was required.)
principle distinguishing acts and omissions. The upshot of this argument is that we have reason to be
Consider another example. Suppose a girl has a 10 in disturbed, prima facie, when we find others making
10,000 chance of death from a disease. A vaccine will decisions that violate consequentialism. On further inves-
prevent that disease, but there is a 5 in 10,000 chance of tigation, we might find that no better prescriptive norms
death from its side effects. The girl should endorse a norm are possible. But, unless this is true, these norms will lead
that tells you to give her the vaccine, assuming that this to decisions that prevent us from achieving our goals as

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Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

well as other decisions might. Our goals themselves, toward the status-quo/omission option. People require
including our altruistic goals, therefore, give us reason to more money to give up a good than they are willing to pay
be concerned about nonconsequentialist decisions. What for the same good (Knetsch & Sinden 1984; Samuelson &
we do about this disturbance is another question, to which Zeckhauser 1988; and, for public goods, Mitchell & Car-
we might apply consequentialist norms. son 1989). Kahneman et al. (1990) showed that these
effects were not the result of wealth effects or other
artifacts. They are, at least in part, true biases. Although
3. Departures from consequentialism
Ritov and Baron (1992) found that this status-quo bias was
I shall now present a few examples of possible violations of largely a consequence of omission bias, Schweitzer (in
consequentialism. I hope these examples make it plausi- press) found both omission bias without a status-quo
ble that nonconsequentialist thinking exists and matters, option, and status-quo bias without an omission option.
even if each example is subject to one quibble or another. Baron (1992) and Kahneman et al. (1990) also found a pure
status-quo bias. Status-quo bias, like omission bias, can
3.1. Omission and status-quo bias. Kitov and Baron result from overgeneralization of rules that are often
(1990) examined a set of hypothetical vaccination deci- useful, such as, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
sions like the one just described. We compared omission It is clear that omission and status-quo bias can cause
and commission as options within the same choice. In one failures to achieve the best consequences, as we would
experiment, subjects were told to imagine that their child judge them in the absence of a decision. Possible exam-
had a 10 out of 10,000 chance of death from a flu epidemic, ples in real life are the pain and waste of resources
that a vaccine could prevent the flu, but the vaccine itself resulting from the prohibition of active euthanasia (when
could kill some number of children. Subjects were asked passive euthanasia is welcomed), the failure to consider
to indicate the maximum overall death rate for vaccinated aiding the world's poor as an obligation on a par with not
children for which they would be willing to vaccinate their hurting them (Singer 1979), and the lives of leisure (or
child. Most subjects answered well below 9 per 10,000. withdrawal from worldly pursuits) led by some who are
Of the subjects who showed this kind of reluctance, the capable of contributing to the good of others.
mean tolerable risk was about 5 out of 10,000, half the risk
of the illness itself. The findings were the same when 3.2. Compensation. Compensation for misfortunes is of-
subjects were asked to adopt the position of a policy ten provided by insurance (including social insurance) or
maker deciding for large numbers of children. When by the tort system. The consequentialist justification of
subjects were asked for justification, some said they compensation is complex (Calabresi 1970; Calfee &
would be responsible for any deaths caused by the vac- Rubin, in press; Friedman 1982), but, in the cases consid-
cine, but they would not be (as) responsible for deaths ered here, compensation should depend on the nature of
caused by failure to vaccinate. When a Golden Rule the injury (including psychological aspects) and not other-
argument was presented (Baron 1992), the bias was wise on its cause or on counterfactual alternatives to it.
largely eliminated. Asch et al. (1993) and Meszaros et al. (The compensation in these cases can help the victim, but
(1992) have found that the existence of this bias correlates it cannot punish the injurer or provide incentive for the
with mothers' resistance toward pertussis vaccination victim to complain.) Any departure from this consequen-
(which may produce death or permanent damage in a very tialist standard implies that some victims will be overcom-
few children). pensated or others undercompensated, or both.
Other studies (Ritov & Baron 1992; Spranca et al. 1991) Miller and McFarland (1986) asked subjects to make
indicate a general bias toward omissions over acts that judgments of compensation. When a misfortune was
produce the same outcome. In one case used by Spranca almost avoided, more compensation was provided than
et al. (1991), for example, subjects were told about John, a when it was hard to imagine how it could have been
tennis player who thought he could beat Ivan Lendl only avoided. A possible justification for this difference is that
if Lendl were ill. John knew that Ivan was allergic to victims were more emotionally upset in the former case
cayenne pepper, so, when John and Ivan went out to the than in the latter. Ritov and Baron (in press), however,
customary dinner before their match, John planned to found the same sort of result when subjects understood
recommend to Ivan the house salad dressing, which that the victim did not know the cause of the injury or the
contained cayenne pepper. Subjects were asked to com- alternatives to it. In all cases a train accident occurred
pare John's morality in different endings to the story. In when a fallen tree was blocking the tracks. Subjects
one ending, John recommended the dressing. In another judged that more compensation should be provided (by a
ending, John was about to recommend the dressing when special fund) when the train's unexpected failure to stop
Ivan chose it for himself, and John, of course, said noth- caused the injury than when the suddenness of the stop
ing. Of the 33 subjects tested, 10 thought that John's was the cause. The results were the same whether the
behavior was worse in the commission ending; no subject failure was that of an automatic stopping device or of a
thought the omission was worse. Other studies (Baron & human engineer.
Ritov, in press; Ritov & Baron 1992; Spranca et al. 1991, These results can be partially explained in terms of
Experiment 4) show that the bias toward omissions is not norm theory (Kahneman & Miller 1986), which holds that
limited to cases in which harm (or risk) is the result, we evaluate outcomes by comparing them to easily imag-
although the effect is greater when the decision leads to ined counterfactual alternatives. When it is easy to imag-
the worse of two possible outcomes (Baron & Ritov, in ine how things could have turned out better, we regard
press). the outcome as worse. When subjects were told that the
Inaction is often confounded with maintaining the sta- outcome would have been worse if the train had stopped
tus quo; and several studies have shown an apparent bias (when it did not stop), or if the train had not stopped

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Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

(when it did), they provided less compensation, as norm (in cases involving no clear negligence). In one case,
theory predicts. Likewise, they provided more compen- subjects were told that a higher penalty would make the
sation if the counterfactual outcome would have been company and others like it try harder to make safer
better. But this information about counterfactuals did not products. In an adjacent case, a higher penalty would
eliminate the effect of the cause of the outcome. Hence, make the company more likely to stop making the prod-
norm theory, while supported, is not sufficient to explain uct, leaving only less safe products on the market. Most
all the results. Another source could be overgeneraliza- subjects, including a group of judges, assigned the same
tion of principles that would be applied to cases in which penalties in both of these cases. In another test of the
an injurer must pay the victim. The injurer is more likely same principle, subjects assigned penalties to the com-
to be at fault when a device fails or when the engineer fails pany even when the penalty was secret, the company was
to stop. insured, and the company was going out of business, so
A similar sort of overgeneralization might be at work in that (subjects were told) the amount of the penalty would
another phenomenon, the person-causation bias. Here, have no effect on anyone's future behavior. Baron et al.
subjects judge that more compensation should be pro- (1993) likewise found that subjects, including judges and
vided by a third party when an injury is caused by human legislators, typically did not penalize companies differ-
beings than when it is caused by nature (Baron 1992; ently for dumping hazardous waste, whether the penalty
Ritov & Baron, in press). This result is found, again, when would make companies try harder to avoid waste or
both the injurer (if any) and the victim are unaware of the induce them to cease making a beneficial product. It has
cause of the injury or of the amount of compensation been suggested (e.g., Inglehart 1987) that companies
(Baron 1993b), so that even psychological punishment is have in fact stopped making beneficial products, such as
impossible. For example, subjects provided more com- vaccines, exactly because of such penalties.
pensation to a person who lost a job from unfair and illegal Such a tendency toward retribution could result from
practices of another business than to one who lost a job overgeneralization of a deterrence rule. It may be easier
from normal business competition (neither victim knew for people - in the course of development - to understand
the cause). The same result was found for blindness punishment in terms of rules of retribution than in terms
caused by a restaurant's violation of sanitary rules versus of deterrence. Those who do understand the deterrence
blindness caused by a mosquito. rationale generally make the same judgments - because
This effect might be an overgeneralization of the desire deterrence and retribution principles usually agree - so
to punish someone. Ordinarily, punishment and compen- opportunities for social learning are limited. Other possi-
sation are correlated, because the injurer is punished by ble sources of a retribution rule may be a perception of
having to compensate the victim (or possibly even by the balance or equity (Walster et al. 1978) and a generalization
shame of seeing that others must compensate the victim). from the emotional response of anger, which may operate
But when this correlation is broken, subjects seem to in terms of retribution (although it may also be subject to
continue to use the same heuristic rule. This sort of modulation by moral beliefs; see Baron 1992).
reasoning might account in part for the general lack of A second bias in judgments of punishment is that
concern about the discrepancy between victims of natural people seem to want to make injurers undo the harm they
disease, who are rarely compensated (beyond their medi- did, even when some other penalty would benefit others
cal expenses), and victims of human activity, who are often more. Baron and Ritov (1993) found that both compen-
Compensated a great deal, even when little specific deter- sation and penalties tended to be greater when the
rence results because the compensation is paid by liability pharmaceutical company paid the victim directly than
insurance. when penalties were paid to the government and com-
pensation was paid by the government (in the secret-
3.3. Punishment. Notoriously, consequentialist views of settlement case described earlier). Baron et al. (1993)
punishment hold that two wrongs do not make a right, so found (unsurprisingly) that subjects preferred to have
punishment is justified largely on the grounds of deter- companies clean up their own waste, even if the waste
rence. Deterrence can be defined generally to include threatened no one, rather than spend the same amount of
education, support for social norms, and so on, but pun- money cleaning up the much more dangerous waste of a
ishment must ultimately prevent more harm than it defunct company. Ordinarily, it is easiest for people
inflicts. Again, I leave aside the question of how to add up to undo their own harm, but this principle may be
harms across people and time. The simple consequential- overgeneralized.
ist model put forward here implies that, normatively, our Both of these biases can lead to worse consequences in
judgment of whether a punishment should be inflicted some cases, although much of the time the heuristics that
should depend entirely on our judgment of whether lead to them probably generate the best consequences.
doing so will bring about net benefit (compared to the best These results, then, might also be the result of over-
alternative), whether or not the judgment of benefit is generalization of otherwise useful heuristics.
made by adding up benefits and costs in some way. (We
might want to include here the benefits of emotional 3.4. Resistance to coerced reform. Reforms are social
satisfaction to those who desire to see punishment inflic- rules that improve matters on the whole. Some reforms
ted. But we would certainly want to include deterrent require coercion. In a social dilemma, each person is
effects as well.) faced with a conflict between options: one choice is better
People often ignore deterrence in making decisions for the individual and the other is better for all members
about punishment or penalties. Baron and Ritov (in press of the group in question. Social dilemmas can be, and
a) asked subjects to assess penalties and compensation have been, solved by agreements to penalize defectors
separately for victims of birth-control pills and vaccines (Hardin 1968). Coercion may also be required to resolve

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
negotiations (even though almost any agreement would both through their own judgment of consequences and
be better for both sides than no agreement) or bring about through the justifications they gave. Of those subjects
an improvement for many at the expense of a few, as when who would vote against the tax despite judging that it
taxes are raised for the wealthy. It is in the interest of most would do more good than harm, for example, 85% cited
people to support beneficial but coercive reforms, and the unfairness of the tax as a reason for voting against it,
some social norms encourage such support, but other 75% the fact that the tax would harm some people, and
social norms may oppose reforms (Elster 1989). 35% the fact the tax would take away a choice that people
To look for such norms, Baron and Jurney (1993) pre- should be able to make. (In other cases, rights were more
sented subjects with six proposed reforms, each involving prominent.) Removal of liberty by any means may set a
some public coercion that would force people to behave precedent for other restrictions of freedom (Mill 1859),
cooperatively, that is, in a way that would be best for hence a consequentialist argument could be made against
all if everyone behaved that way. The situations involved coercion even when a simple analysis suggests that coer-
abolition of television advertising in political campaigns, cion is justified. But no subject made this kind of argu-
compulsory vaccination for a highly contagious flu, com- ment. The appeals to the principles listed were in all cases
pulsory treatment for a contagious bacterial disease, no- direct and were written as though they were sufficient.
fault auto insurance (which eliminates the right to sue), Baron (1993b) obtained further evidence for the "do no
elimination of lawsuits against obstetricians, and a uni- harm" heuristic. Subjects were asked to put themselves in
form 100% tax on gasoline (to reduce global warming). the position of a benevolent dictator of a small island
Most subjects thought things would be better on the consisting of equal numbers of bean growers and wheat
whole if the reforms, as described, were put into effect, growers. The decision was whether to accept or decline
but many oithose subjects said they would not vote for the the final offer of the island's only trading partner, as a
reforms. Subjects who voted against proposals they saw as function of its effect on the incomes of the two groups.
improvements cited several reasons. Three reasons Most subjects would not accept any offer that reduced the
played a major role in such resistance to reform, as income of one group to increase the income of the other,
indicated both by correlations with resistance (among even if the reduction was a small fraction of the gain, and
subjects who saw the proposal as improvements) and by even if the group bearing the loss had a higher income at
subjects indicating (both in yes-no and free-response the outset. (It remains to be determined whether subjects
formats) that these were the reasons for their votes: think the subjective effect of the loss is greater than that of
fairness, harm, and rights. the gain.) The idea of Pareto efficiency (Pareto 1971) may
Fairness concerns the distribution of the benefits or have the same intuition origin.
costs of reform. People may reject a generally beneficial Additional evidence for the role of fairness comes from
reform such as an agreement between management and a number of studies in which subjects refuse to accept
labor, on the grounds that it allocates benefits or costs in a beneficial offers because the benefits seem to be unfairly
way that violates some standard of distribution. distributed (Camerer & Loewenstein 1993; Thaler 1988).
Harm refers to a norm that prohibits helping one In all of these studies of departures from consequential-
person by harming another, even if the benefit outweighs ism, it might be possible for someone who had made a
the harm and even if unfairness is otherwise not at issue nonconsequentialist decision to find a consequentialist
(e.g., when those to be harmed are determined ran- justification for it, for example, by imagining goals or
domly). Whereas opposition to reform on the grounds of subtle precedent-setting effects. Yet, in all these studies,
fairness compares reform to a reference point defined by justifications are typically not of this form. Moreover, the
the ideally fair result, opposition on the grounds of harm question at issue is not whether a conceivable consequen-
compares it to the status quo. One trouble with most tialist justification can be found but, rather, whether
reforms is that they help some people and hurt others. subjects faced with a description of the consequences,
For example, an increased tax on gasoline in the United divorced from the decisions that led to them, would judge
States may help the world by reducing CO 2 emissions, the consequences for goal achievement in a way that was
and it will help most Americans by reducing the budget consistent with their decisions. It seems unlikely that
deficit; but it will hurt those few Americans who are they would do so in all of these studies.
highly dependent on gasoline, despite the other benefits
for them. The norm against harm is related to omission
bias, because failing to help (by not passing the reform) is
4. The sources of intuition
not seen as an equivalent to the harm resulting from
action.
I have given several examples of possible nonconsequen-
A right, in this context, is an option to defect. The tialist thinking. My goal has been to make plausible the
removal of this right might be seen as a harm, even if, on claim that nonconsequentialist decision rules exist and
other grounds, the person in question is clearly better off that they affect real outcomes. Before discussing what, if
when the option to defect is removed (because it is also anything, should be done about these norms, we should
removed for everyone else). consider whether they are really as problematical as I
Subjects cited all of these reasons for voting against have suggested. One argument against my suggestion is
coercive reforms (both in yes-no and open-ended re- that these norms have evolved through biological and
sponse formats). For example, in one study, 39% of cultural evolution over a long period of time, hence they
subjects said they would vote for a 100% tax on gasoline, are very likely the best we can achieve, or close to the
but 48% of those who would vote against the tax thought it best.
would do more good than harm on the whole. Subjects Like Singer (1981), I am skeptical. Although several
thus admitted to making nonconsequentialist decisions, evolutionary accounts can explain the emergence of var-

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

ious forms of altruism as well as various moral emotions cultures as they are to fundamental moral rules that seem
such as anger (Frank 1985), I know of no such accounts of to be universal (Haidt et al., in press).
the specific norms I have cited. (I could imagine such an Why would anyone invent or modify a rule and teach it
account for the norm of retribution, however, which to someone else? One reason is that the teachers benefit
might arise from a tendency to counterattack.) Any ac- directly from the "students" following the rule, as when
count that favors altruism would also seem to favor conse- parents teach their children to tell the truth, help with the
quentialist behavior, and this would be inconsistent with housework, or control their tempers. In some cases, these
nonconsequentialist norms. Even an account of anger as a rules are expressed in a general form ("don't bother
way of making threats credible (Frank 1985) need not people," "pitch in and do your share"), perhaps because
distinguish between anger at acts and omissions. Indeed, parents understand that children will be liked by others if
we are often angry with people for what they have failed they follow those rules. So parents teach their children to
to do. be good in part out of a natural concern with the children's
Even if norms have an evolutionary basis, we still do not long-run interests. Parents may also take advantage of
need to endorse them. As Singer (1981) points out in other certain opportunities for such instruction: a moral lesson
terms, evolution is trying to solve a problem other than may be more likely after a harmful act than after a failure
that of determining the best morality to endorse. A rule to help (unless the help was specifically requested).
might engender its own survival without meeting the Often, such rules are made up to deal with specific
above criteria for being worthy of endorsement. For cases, for example, "don't hurt people," in response to
example, chauvinism might lead to its own perpetuation beating up a little brother. We can think of such rules as
by causing nations that encourage it to triumph over those hypotheses, as attempts to capture what is wrong with the
that do not, the victors then spreading their norms to the case in question. It is useful to express the rules in a more
vanquished. Likewise, ideologies that encourage open- general form rather than referring to the specific case
mindedness might suffer defections at higher rates than alone ("don't twist your brother's arm"). But such general
those that do not, leading to the perpetuation of a doctrine rules are not crafted after deep thought. They are spur-of-
that closed-minded thinking is good (Baron 1991). Such the-moment inventions, although they do help control
mechanisms of evolution do not give us reason to endorse behavior for the better.
the rules they promote. As Singer points out, an evolu- If the rule is badly stated, one corrective mechanism is
tionary explanation of a norm can even undercut our critical thought about the rule itself (Singer 1981). To
attachment to it, because we then have an alternative to criticize a rule, we need to have a standard, a goal, such as
the hypothesis that we endorsed it because it was right. the test suggested earlier: is this a member of the set of
Some have compared decision biases to optical illu- rules that we benefit most from endorsing? We also need
sions, which are a necessary side effect of an efficient to have arguments about why the rule fails to achieve that
design or adaptation (Funder 1987). Without a plausible standard as well as it could, such as examples (like those I
account of how this adaptation works, however, accep- gave earlier) where the rule leads to general harm. And
tance of this argument would require blind faith in the we need alternative rules, although these can eome after
status quo. More can be said, however. Unlike optical the criticism rather than before it.
illusions (I assume), nonconsequentialist decision rules In the absence of such critical thought, rules may attain
are not always used. In all the research I described, many a life of their own. They become overgeneralized (or the
or most subjects did not show the biases in question. rules that might replace them in specific cases are under-
Moreover, Larrick et al. (in press) found that those who do generalized, even if they are used elsewhere). Because of
not display such biases are at least no worse oft in terms of our docility, perhaps, and the social importance of moral
success'or wealth than those who do. (Whether they are rules, our commitments to these rules are especially
morally worse was not examined.) Nonconsequential de- tenacious. The retributive rule of punishment, "an eye for
cision making is not a fixed characteristic of our condition. an eye," was originally a reform (Hommers, 1986), an
To understand where nonconsequentialist rules (norms) improvement over the kind of moral system that led to
come from, we need to understand where any decision escalating feuds. But when applied intuitively by a court
rules come from. I know of no deep theory about this. Some to the cases of a child killed by a vaccine, with but
rules may result from observation of our biological behav- negligence, it is overgeneralized to a case where the rule
ioral tendencies, through the naturalistic fallacy. We ob- itself probably does harm (Baron & Ritov 1993; Oswald
serve, for example, that men are stronger than women and 1989 makes a similar suggestion).
sometimes push women around, so we conclude that men Critical thought about moral rules undoubtedly occurs.
ought to be dominant. Rules are also discovered by It may be what Piaget and his followers take to be the
individuals (as Piagetian theorists have emphasized); they major mechanism of moral development. The sorts of
are explicitly taught (as social-learning theorists have experience that promote such thought may work because
emphasized) by parents, teachers, and the clergy; and they they provide counterexamples to rules that have been
are maintained through gossip and other kinds of social used so far. But critical thought is not universal. A princi-
interaction (Sabini & Silver 1981). ple such as "do no harm" may be developed as an admoni-
If people evolved to be docile, as proposed by Simon tion in cases of harm through actions. This principle may
(1990), then we become attached to the rules that we are then be applied to cases in which harm to some is
taught by others. These rules need have no justification outweighed by much .greater good to others, such as
for this attachment mechanism to work. Arbitrary rules compulsory vaccination laws, fuel taxes, or free-trade
can acquire just as much loyalty as well-adjusted rules. agreements. The application may be unreflective. The
And, indeed, people sometimes seem just as attached to principle has become a fundamental intuition, beyond
rules of dress or custom that vary extensively across question.

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

Such overgeneralization is well known in the study of ing counterarguments (e.g., Baron & Ritov 1993). In
learning. For example, Wertheimer (1959) noted that some cases it might be best not to replace the nonconse-
students who learn the base-times-height rule for the area quentialist rules with more carefully crafted ones but,
of a parallelogram often apply the same rule inap- rather, to be less confident about them and more willing
propriately to roughly similar figures and fail to apply the to examine the situation from scratch. The carefully
rule when it should be applied, for example, to a long crafted rules might be too difficult to learn. In such cases
parallelogram turned on its side. Wertheimer attributed we might say that overgeneralization is a matter of exces-
such over- and undergeneralization to learning without sive rigidity in the application of good general rules rather
understanding. I have suggested (Baron 1988a) that the than in the use of excessively general rules.
crucial element in understanding is keeping the justifica- In this section, I have tried to give a plausible account of
tion of the formula in mind, in terms of the purpose how erroneous intuitions arise in the development of
served and the arguments for why the formula serves that individuals and cultures. Direct evidence on such devel-
purpose. In the case of the base-times-height rule, the opment is needed. In the rest of this article, I explore
justification involves the goal of making the parallelogram some implications of my view for research and applica-
into a rectangle, which cannot be done in the same way tion. These implications depend in different ways on the
with, for example, a trapezoid. probability that this view is correct. Some require only
Overgeneralization in mathematics is easily corrected. that it is possible.
In morality and decision making, however, the rules that
people learn arise from important social interactions.
People become committed to these rules in ways that do 5. Intuition as a philosophical method
not usually happen in schoolchildren learning mathemat-
If intuitions about decision rules result from overgeneral-
ics. In this respect, overgeneralization also differs from
ization, then (as also argued by Hare 1981 and Singer
mechanisms that have been proposed as causes of types of
1981) these intuitions are suspect as the basic data for
biases other than those discussed here, mechanisms such
philosophical inquiry. Philosophers who argue that the
as the costs of more complex strategies, associative struc-
act-omission distinction is relevant (e.g., Kamm 1986;
tures, and basic psychophysical principles (Arkes 1991).
Malm 1989) typically appeal directly to their own intu-
A defense of overgeneralization is that preventing it is
costly. Crude rules might be good enough, given the time itions about cases. Unless it can be shown that intuitions
and effort it would take to improve them. Moreover, the are trustworthy, these philosophers are simply begging
effort to improve them might go awry. People who reflect the question.
on their decision rules might simply dig themselves Rawls (1971) admits that single intuitions can be sus-
deeper into whatever hole they are in, rather than im- pect, but he argues for a reflective equilibrium based on
proving those rules. We might also be subject to self- an attempt to systematize intuitions into a coherent the-
serving biases when we ask whether a given case is an ory. Such systematization need not solve the problem,
exception to a generally good rule (Hare 1981), such as in however. For example, it might (although it does not do so
deciding whether an extramarital affair is really for the for Rawls) lead to a moral system in which the act-
best (despite a belief that most are not). omission distinction is central, a system in which morality
consists mainly of prohibitions and positive duties play a
These defenses should be taken seriously, but their
limited role, if any (as suggested by Baron 1986).
implications are limited. They imply that we should be
wary of trying to teach everyone to be a moral philoso- Rawls's argument depends to some extent on an anal-
pher. They also suggest that prescriptive systems of rules ogy between moral inquiry and fields such as modern
might differ from normative systems (although they do linguistics, where systematization of intuition has been a
not prove this - see Baron 1990). But they do not imply powerful and successful method. The same method ar-
that simpler rules are more adequate as normative stan- guably underlies logic and mathematics (Popper 1962,
dards than full consequentialist analyses. Ch. 9). I cannot refute fully this analogical argument, but
it is not decisive, only suggestive. I have suggested (along
Moreover, some decisions are so important that the
with Singer 1981) that morality and decision rules have an
cost of thorough thinking and discussion pales by compar-
external purpose through which they may be understood,
ison to the cost of erroneous choices. I have in mind issues
and that this criterion, rather than intuition, can be used
such as global environmental policy, fairness toward the
as the basis of justification. Perhaps this idea can be
world's poor, trade policy, and medical policy. In these
matters, the thinking is often done by groups of people extended by analogy to language, logic, and mathematics,
engaged in serious debate, not by individuals. Thus, but that is not my task here.
there is more protection from error, and the effort is more
likely to pay off. Many have suggested that utilitarianism
6. Experimental methodology
and consequentialism are fully consistent with common
sense or everyday moral intuition (e.g., Sidgwick 1907), Experiments on decision biases often use between-
but this may be more true in interpersonal relations than subject designs (each condition given to different sub-
in thinking about major social decisions.
jects) or other means to make sure that subjects do not
Finally, the cost of thinking (or the cost of learning) may compare directly the cases the experimenter will com-
be a good reason for learning a more adequate rule, but pare (such as separating the cases within a long series).
not a good reason for having high confidence in the The assumption behind such between-subject designs is
inadequate rules that are used instead. Yet many exam- that subjects would not show a bias if they knew what
ples of the use of nonconsequentialist rules are charac- cases were being compared. All of the biases I have
terized by exactly such confidence, to the point of resist- described above are within-subject. Subjects show the

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

omission bias knowingly, for example, even when the act might as well fold up our tents and move on to more useful
and omission versions are adjacent. activities. How should we draw the line between making
In between-subject designs, subjects may display bi- too many claims and too few?
ases that they would themselves judge to be biases. Such I do not propose to answer this question fully, but part
inconsistency seems to dispense with the need for a of an answer concerns the way we make claims concerning
normative theory such as the consequentialist theory I public policy debates. I suggest that claims of biased
have proposed, or expected utility theory. But without an reasoning be directed at particular arguments made by
independent check, we do not know that subjects would one side or the other, not at positions, and certainly not at
consider their responses to be inconsistent. Frisch (1993) individuals.
took the trouble to ask subjects whether they regarded For example, one of the arguments against free-trade
the two critical situations as equivalent - such as buying agreements is that it is wrong to hurt some people (e.g.,
versus selling as ways of evaluating a good - and she found those on both sides who will lose their jobs to foreign
that they often did not. In other words, between-subject competition) to help others (e.g., those who will be
designs are not necessary to find many of the classic biases prevented from losing their jobs because their products
(including the status-quo effect described earlier), and will be exported). This could be an example of omission
subjects often disagree with experimenters regarding bias, or the do-no-harm heuristic, which operates in
which situations are equivalent. much clearer cases and which, I have argued, is indeed an
When we use within-subject designs, however, we error in these clear cases. Now real trade negotiations are
cannot simply claim that subjects are making mistakes extremely complex, and they involve other issues charac-
because they are violating the rules they endorse. When teristic of any negotiations, such as trying to get the best
asked for justifications for their judgments, subjects in all deal for everyone. So at most we could conclude that a
the experiments I described earlier endorsed a variety of particular part of the argument against free trade is a
rules that are consistent with their responses. We there- fallacy that has been found elsewhere in the laboratory.
fore need a normative theory, such as the consequentialist This does not imply that the other arguments opposing
theory I have outlined, if we are to evaluate subjects' free trade are wrong or not decisive, or that the people
responses. who oppose free trade are any more subject to error than
Much the same normative theory seems to be implicit those who favor it.
in most of the literature on framing effects and inconsis- With this kind of caution at least, the general program
tencies. Whether or not a factor is relevant to making a of research can be extended more broadly to other mat-
decision is a normative question, to which alternative ters of policy that I have not discussed here, such as
answers can be given. For example, Schick (1991) argues fairness in testing and selection for academic and employ-
that the way decision makers describe situations to them- ment opportunities, abortion, euthanasia, nationalism,
selves is normatively relevant to the decision they ought the morality of sex, and so on. In all these kinds of cases,
to make (even, presumably, if these descriptions do not arguments for two (or more) sides are complex, but some
affect consequences), because descriptions affect their of the arguments are probably erroneous. Psychology has
"understanding" of the situation, and understandings a role to play in discovering fallacious arguments and
are necessarily part of any account of decision making. pointing them out.
Hence, framing effects do not imply error. If consequen- One discipline has concerned itself with exactly this
tialism is correct, though, Schick is wrong: consequential- kind of inquiry, the study of informal logic (e.g., Arnauld
ism implies that understandings themselves can be erro- 1964; Johnson & Blair 19983; Walton 1989). This field,
neous (we might say). The attempt to bring in a however, has not incorporated many of the advances in
consequentialist standard through the back door while normative theory that have occurred since the time of
ostensibly talking about inconsistency (Davves 1988) and Aristotle, and it has paid no attention to psychological
framing effects will not work. The standard should be evidence - sparse as it is - about which fallacies actually
brought in explicitly, as I have tried to do. occur in rea.1 life.
In sum, although between-subject designs are useful
for studying heuristics, we may also use within-subject
designs to evaluate subjects' rules against a normative 8. Educational implications
standard such as consequentialism.
If discoveries about nonconsequentialist decision making
are themselves to have any consequences, they must
7. Policy implications influence the thinking that people do. As I suggested at
the outset, norms for thinking are enforced throughout
The examples I used to illustrate my argument are of society, so new research can influence these norms in
some relevance to issues of public concern, as noted. I am many ways. One may argue that psychological research
tempted to offer evidence of psychological biases as am- on racial and ethnic stereotyping (and authoritarianism,
munition in various battles over public policy. Tetlock and ethnocentrism, dogmatism, etc.) has influenced Western
Mitchell (1993), however, correctly warn us against using cultures in a great variety of ways. The claim that an
psychological research as a club for beating down our argument is prejudiced now refers to a well-established
political opponents. It is too easy, and it can usually be body of psychological literature familiar to most people in
done by both sides. On the other hand, a major reason for these societies. (In using this as an example, I am not
studying biases is to discover where decisions need im- assuming that the research in question is flawless. In-
provement, and if we researchers are going to reject all deed, Tetlock and Mitchell point out that much of this
application to public or personal decision making, we research is itself politically biased, and the example may

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 9


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
stand as a warning against excess as much as a model of who said that they heard it for the first time in our study,
influence.) some accepted it and some rejected it, and a similar
Much of the influence that this sort of scholarship division was found among those who recognized the
exerts is very general. Scholars write articles, which are argument as familiar. I suggest that not recognizing this
read by students, who acquire beliefs that they then teach argument is evidence of an educational gap, and that this
to their children. Scholars also teach their students. Trade particular gap is a worse one than that shown by the copy
books and magazines convey ideas to the general public. editor who asks for Aristotle's first name.
But education provides a special channel for standards of
thinking and decision making to be transmitted, because ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
the transmission of such standards has long been a self- I thank Jean Beattie, Deborah Frisch, Richard Hare, Barbara
conscious goal of education. Mellers, liana Ritov, Mark Spranca, and several anonymous
A natural question, then, is how to conduct education reviewers for helpful comments. Much of the research de-
in consequentialist decision making, assuming that we scribed was supported by National Science Foundation giants
SES-8809299 and SES-9109763.
acquire increasing confidence in our assessment of what
errors need to be corrected. Can we teach students that
there is a right way of making decisions, and it is conse-
quentialism? Here are two sides:
On the pro side, it is difficult to convey a standard that Open Peer Commentary
you do not apply yourself. If, for example, we want to
teach students to write grammatically, or to avoid logical
errors, we must try to practice what we preach and apply Commentary submitted by the qualified professional readership of this
journal will be considered for publication in a later issue as Continuing
the standards when we evaluate students, each other, and Commentary on this article. Integrative overviews and syntheses are
ourselves. Thus, when students hand in papers with especially encouraged.
dangling participles or ad hominem arguments, we must
point this out with red pencils. Likewise, when students
provide nonconsequentialist arguments, we must point
this out, too, if we want students to become aware of this Fairness to policies, distinctions and
issue. And we must give students opportunities to think intuitions
about decisions in places where the standards of decision
making can be discussed and brought to bear (Baron & Jonathan E. Adler
Brown 1991). Department of Philosophy, Brooklyn College, City University of New York,
Brooklyn, NY 11210
On the con side, decision making is not like grammar.
Electronic mail: jea@bklyn.bitnet
People have deep commitments to their decision rules,
and they oion these commitments. They may regard 1. Baron opposes the acts-omission distinction. Defenses of this
attempts to change their views as a kind of theft. It is distinction usually depend on "intuitions" he believes arise from
overgeneralization. The choice of "overgeneralization" as a de-
certainly a hurt. Moreover, no matter how confident we
scription has, I believe, two implications: first, that the general-
are in the normative theory, we can never be fully confi- ization makes a truth-claim that does not hold over the entire
dent about prescriptive theory. Perhaps it is better that range of the rule's application; and second, that we would be
some people not try to understand consequentialist the- better off without the ouergeneralized rule.
ory, even assuming its correctness. And we must remem- Yet when real cases confront us in everyday life, a number of
ber that normative theory itself will evolve over time, so factors contribute to the greater stringency in avoiding doing
that we can give people at most a best guess (and it is very harm than in failing to do what will lessen harm. Besides
likely to be one that is nowhere near universally ac- differences in intention, these include differences in certainty
cepted). These considerations argue for a different kind of and responsibility. It can be argued (though not here) that these
instruction, one in which we present arguments as argu- differences are relevant to the distinction. But even if we avoid
ments rather than as standards - not in red pencil but in arguing that claim, we can recognize that it may be the best
black pencil, as if to say: "This is just an argument on the policy to draw and conform to this distinction, though not
absolutely, especially when we have good reason to believe that
other side that you should consider." This view is compat-
if one treats each case as deserving of case-by-case assessment,
ible with most approaches to moral education, in which one may do much worse. If we then view the reasoning in the
the emphasis is on discussion and argumentation rather cases Baron cites not as realizing an overgeneralized rule but as
than on learning. the adoption of a policy, then, first, no truth-claim is being made
A moderate position between these two (Baron 1990) is over the entire range of the policy, and second, we could be
to present consequentialist theory as something that better off maintaining the policy than switching to a more
students should know but do not have to accept or follow. accurate set of rules, even conceding the imperfections. (In
Thus, students should be able to apply the theory when section 4, "The sources of intuition," Baron touches on this line
asked to do so, although they need not endorse what they of objection, but I find his response too dismissive.)
write as their own opinions. Alternative theories could be Describing subjects' reasoning as the application of over-
taught as well; and discussion like that suggested in the generalized rules comes naturally when we focus on the specific
last paragraph is also compatible with this kind of case, for that focus biases us toward evaluating subjects on the
instruction. basis of the single case alone, rather than taking the perspective
of the constrained decision or policy maker who attempts to
One relevant finding of Baron and Ritov (1993) is that simplify by assimilating, as much as possible, new cases to old.
a large fraction of our college-student subjects said they The need for cognitive economy is fundamental to the tradition
had never heard of the argument that punishment was that informs much of the rest of Baron's research.
justified by deterrence rather than retribution. Of those

10 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
Baron sets aside considerations of planning and economies at Three reservations about consequentialism
other places. For example, he writes that "the crucial element in
understanding is keeping the justification of the formula in Hal R. Arkes
mind, in terms of the purposes served and the arguments for Department of Psychology, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701-2979
Electronic mail: arkes@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu
why the formula serves that purpose." But if the justification
serves no foreseeable purpose, would I not be wise to allow I would like to agree wholeheartedly with Baron's consequen-
myself to forget it, perhaps storing it away in an accessible tialist thesis that "the best decisions are those that yield the best
location? A final example: in the discussion of compensation, consequences for achieving people's goals. ' However, there are
Baron writes that "subjects judge that more compensation three irksome issues that make me hesitate.
should be provided by a third party when an injury is caused by The first concerns the definition of consequences. Exactly
human beings than when it is caused by nature." But surely if what should be included in reckoning consequences? Several
one is designing a general plan for compensation and knows that authors, such as Schmitt and Marwell (1972), Kahneman et al.
only some of the unjustified injuries can be compensated, it is (1986), and Loewenstein et al. (1989) have shown that people
sensible to extend greater tolerance to those that are more a will forsake gains to themselves and even reject aggregate gains
matter of chance than those that are the outcomes of human to all players to achieve what is perceived to be a more equitable
choice and hence responsibility. distribution. For example, people might prefer a distribution
Mine is not an approach that seeks to excuse or rationalize the among three participants in which each person gets two assets to
faults in subjects' reasoning and judgment. Evaluation or criti- a distribution in which one person gets five, one person gets
cism should be more complex because in subjects' understand- four, and one person gets three. People are willing to forgo
ing of these tasks multiple ends (or goals) meet. (On these additional assets for everyone to equalize outcomes. Are such
matters and in disagreement with Flinders [1987] more opti- people failing to follow the consequentialist norm? I believe so.
mistic view, see Adler [1991].) The assumption that there can be But what if the three people involved pointed out that jealousy
alternative purposes (or understandings) of these tasks does not and even hostility would undoubtedly ensue if the unequal
imply, as Baron claims against Schick (1991), that each of these distribution occurred? Such negative occurrences would sub-
alternatives is proper, only that some are. stantially detract from its otherwise generous consequences.
2. In rejecting the acts-omission distinction, Baron does not This might actually render the equal but smaller distribution
tell us how we would handle difficult cases. Specifically, there is superior.
the pair of cases now known as the Trolley and the Transplant My own preference would be not to honor jealousy and
(Thomson 1990). In the former, a runaway trolley, if allowed to pettiness in the calculation of consequences. If the goal is to
continue, will kill five, but a person can pull a switch to divert it maximize benefits, then whining about unequal distributions
to another track where it kills only one. In the transplant case, when everyone is better off seems counterproductive to me.
five otherwise healthy individuals need just one of the organs However, if counterproductive emotional reactions have serious
from a loner who wanders into the hospital. We judge it right to consequences, can we ignore them? If we do, we may invite
switch the trolley and wrong to take the organs. Does Baron truly terrible consequences. If we do not ignore them, we
accept this judgment, and if so, how does he account for it on his dignify and perpetuate their influence. What is a consequential-
simple consequentialist model? (He defines consequentialism ist to do?
in terms of goals, rather than causal independence [of the act The second annoying issue can be illustrated by referring to
from the consequences]. But if so, why could "not intending to an example alluded to by Lichtenstein et al. (1990). Several
bring about unwarranted harm " not be a goal?) years ago a young girl named Jessica fell down an abandoned
3. To treat intuitions as overgeneralizations and in conflict is to well in Texas. The enormous amount of money spent to rescue
misrepresent how philosophers understand the notion of intu- her could have been used instead to cap lots of abandoned wells
ition. As with linguistic intuitions, these are not generalizations in Texas, thereby preventing the deaths of many children in
from experience, and seeming conflicts in intuition show only future years. (Several children die each year in Texas after falling
that either at least one is not a genuine intuition or that the down such wells.) Should we have ignored Jessica's cries in order
foundation of the enterprise is wrong. The linguistic analogy to spend the money in a more effective way, that is, according to
shows something else: a theory, such as a theory of grammar, can consequentialist norms?
be testable, even when it specifies the source from which its own There are some possible escape hatches for a consequential-
confirming data are to be found. The theory can still be testable ist. For example, saving an identifiable life might have positive
if it can generate precise predictions and is broad enough to have consequences that would not be obtained if multiple potential
implications well beyond the range of data to which it has so far lives were saved. Nevertheless, saving Jessica was preferred to a
appealed. course of action (capping many wells) that would probably have
Baron claims that intuitions must be shown to be "trustwor- saved more than one life. Did this therefore violate the conse-
thy, " but I think this demand is unwarranted. It suggests, first, quentialist norm? Probably. But I would not have volunteered to
that we have a criterion that is neutral (with respect to compet- defend the consequentialist norm to the citizenry of Texas at that
ing theories) and independent (of intuitions) for the Tightness or time.
wrongness of a set of cases. The claim is not made good, and here The third issue is one that has been raised by critics of
the parallel with linguistics holds. Second, though now the utilitarianism (Williams 1973). Suppose I promise my dying
parallel with linguistics fades, ethical intuitions do not represent friend that I will use the assets in his estate to fulfill his last
a single source or a natural kind. Depending on the cases, request. Keeping this promise might be seen as a behavior
different overlapping sets of beliefs and values inform our having prima facie Tightness. But what if I can achieve a much
intuitions. Those who rely on the method of intuitions are not better consequence by breaking my promise? My reputation
committed to a single intuitive "sense' that we could assess in a would not suffer, because I am the only one aware of my
general way for reliability. Third, even those who complain promise. However, my integrity is at stake. What amount of
about intuitions as prejudices (Hare 1981; Singer 1979) are quite "achievement of people's goals" am I willing to sacrifice to
successful in appealing to them as support for their views. preserve my integrity? Does a consequentialist norm require
We should be suspicious of many intuitive judgments and, in that the answer be "none"?
particular, some of the examples meant to elicit them. Baron's Philosophers have long debated the issue of what is good and
valuable research helps expose biases that explain why some what is right (Ross 1930). Consequentialism generally favors the
examples do not yield true intuitions. Let's not throw out the former. Obligation, integrity, and honesty may sometimes favor
baby with the bathwater. the latter.

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 11


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

Baron may object that my three reservations about the conse- results than a car driver having a heart attack is to blame for the
quentialist norm represent tiny chinks in what is otherwise a ensuing crash.
solid structure. The participants in his ingenious experiments Shafir and Tversky (1992) showed that people will use norma-
did not cite the wisdom of John Stuart Mill when they objected tive principles when they are salient or "transparent" in prob-
to coercion. Similarly, my reservations might represent prob- lems, but when they are not, people are more likely to reason
lems with the consequentialist norm that most people are not nonconsequentially. Shafir and Tversky point out that although
going to mention. Many people will countenance the deaths of most subjects make the wrong choices of cards to turn in Wason's
10 children who are not vaccinated to avoid the deaths of 5 (1966) selection task, they can easily appreciate the relevance of
children who are allergic to the vaccine, but in so doing they will the possible outcomes of their choices. In our experience,
not say that they have rejected the consequentialist norm subjects who are wrong often stridently insist that they are right
because of the problems I have enumerated. They are more for reasons that plainly satisfy them, yet these subjects will
likely to reject it for the inadequate reason Baron suggests, that (more quietly) appreciate the correct argument.
is, overgeneralization of other rules. Mistakes occur when people have an inappropriate objective
In fact, I have witnessed plenty of nonconsequentialist behav- for meeting their goal, however that inappropriate objective is
ior that does not seem to be related to the three issues I have met. They have done what they wanted to do but, in terms of
raised. For example, some of the supporters of the immensely achieving their goal, they have done the wrong thing. Perhaps
expensive space station have said recently that no matter how these are the subjects who rejected the notion that punishment
questionable its scientific merit, we ought to continue funding is justified by deterrence rather than retribution and perhaps
it, because we have already spent so much on it. they are suffering from an "educational gap." Given their more
I conclude that whatever the deficiencies of the consequen- intentional nature, moral mistakes appear more blameworthy
tialist norm may be, it is less deficient than the thinking than moral slips, though some would claim that ignorance or
exhibited by people, both in and out of Baron's experiments. lack of intelligence is not evidence for irrationality (e.g., Cohen
1981). To this extent, ignorance of the law is an excuse.
People may also behave in a way that they know will not meet
their objectives. They may do so to explore the relationship
between objectives and goals. In such cases short-term viola-
Inappropriate judgements: Slips, mistakes or tions may lead to improved performance in the long run because
violations? of the extra knowledge revealed. It is difficult to interpret this
rather existentialist approach to moral judgement as blamewor-
Peter Aytona and Nigel Harvey" thy. Self-conscious violations can be found in Baron's (1992)
"Psychology Department, City University, London EC1VOHB, United evidence of dissociations between "should" and "would" in
Kingdom and "Department of Psychology, University College London, people's reactions to hypothetical scenarios. A proportion of
London WC1E6BT, United Kingdom subjects recognised that they should shoot 1 innocent person in
Electronic mail: p.ayton@city.ac.uk
order to save 38 but conceded that they would not do so.
Because it is cognitively taxing to make judgements by applying We agree that people probably do not always reason critically
strictly rational methods, people may use decision rules akin to in order to make moral judgements. Indeed, we wonder
Keynes's (1936) judgement conventions or Tversky and Kahne- whether it is universally recognised that moral reasoning should
man's (1974) heuristics. The cause of nonconsequential reason- inform moral choices. We suspect that people will commonly
ing, Baron argues, is overgeneralising such heuristics. This appeal to authority rather than reason. Political and religious
argument is at once rather curious; heuristics are simple rules of ideology may often serve as decision support systems for a range
thumb that inevitably generalise to some degree or other. of judgements concerning morality. This seems exemplified by
Overgeneralisation suggests that there is some more reasonable the recent rather startling advice offered by the British prime
level of generalisation that people are exceeding. Simple heuris- minister that, with respect to criminal behaviour, "society needs
tics that never made errors would be very valuable, but are they to condemn a little more and understand a little less." When
possible? We suspect that relatively simple rules will only be considering the interpretation of the merits of the choices made
perfectly effective in relatively simple environments. by subjects in experimental tests of moral decision making,
To estimate the efficiency of the heuristics we may use to however, it may be appropriate to be cautious with condemna-
perform judgements we need to know something of the natural tion until we understand a little more.
ecology of the environment in which the heuristics are applied.
How often will the heuristics work? How often will they fail?
How bad will the (consequences of) failures be? What are the
costs and benefits of alternative strategies? These questions are Do, or should, all human decisions conform
not answered by the research cited in the target article. Indeed,
given the ingenuity required to devise problems that demon-
to the norms of a consumer-oriented
strate nonconsequential reasoning, it could be argued that such culture?
heuristics may actually be rather good at their job.
L. Jonathan Cohen
Following Reason et al. (1991), incorrect behaviour can be
attributed to slips, mistakes, and violations. Slips occur when The Queen's College, Oxford University, Oxford 0X1 4AW, England
Electronic mail: ljcohen@vax.oxford.ac.uk
people have the right objectives but fail to reach them because of
the intrusion of some strong habits over which they have no Baron's hypothesis in the earlier part of his target article is that
control. When people receive feedback about the outcomes of we should make decisions according to our judgements of their
their judgements, they know they were inappropriate. Al- consequences for the achievement of our goals, and that when
though Baron claims that his within-subjects experiments pre- nonconsequentialist principles of decision making are used,
clude the possibility that his subjects are inadvertently breaking they are biases and arise from the overgeneralisation of rules
rules they actually endorse, he also finds that subjects presented that are consistent with the requirements of consequentialism
with a Golden Rule argument will revise their judgements, when applied only to a limited set of cases. At heart, therefore,
thereby eliminating bias. They therefore seem to be making holds Baron, we are all consequentialists. There are, however,
slips; their attempts to reach their objectives have been dis- three major difficulties with this argument.
rupted by a strong habitual form of reasoning. Given their lack of The first is that it does not exclude the feasibility of exploiting
control over their reasoning, they are no more to blame for its overgeneralisation in another direction. Consider, for example,

12 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
a culture dominated by conservatism, in which conformity with tent patterns of error or irrationality, whereas other investiga-
the status quo is the most important criterion for a person's tors interpret the responses differently and fail to find these
selecting one proposed pattern of behaviour over another. In patterns of error or irrationality. If it could be safely assumed
such a culture intervention in existing social or natural processes that everyone attached precisely the same meanings to ques-
is normally to be avoided. Traditional patterns of medication, for tions about the validity or probability of particular judgements,
example, are quite acceptable, and the rule to preserve human then biases could be reliably diagnosed wherever such ques-
life is thus valid within a limited range of application. Neverthe- tions were systematically given the wrong answers. But in fact
less that rule may be unacceptable if applied too widely, as in that assumption cannot safely be made, any more than we can
desiring the use of ultramodern ventilation machinery when safely assume that everyone thinks the same values are relevant
there is no prospect of the patient's recovery. From the conser- to all questions about particular decisions. Just as one can
vative's point of view such an overgeneralisation of the role measure quantities of apples by number, weight, or volume, so,
would generate a consequentialist bias. It follows that further too, there are radically different ways of measuring probabilities
empirical research is needed to determine whether we are or evaluating decisions. It may therefore be doubted, pace
indeed consequentialists at heart, with an occasional over- Baron, whether the study of so-called biases can in fact give
generalising bias toward conservatism or some other nonconse- much help to decision makers in public life. Indeed, negotia-
quentialist principle, or conservatives (or something else), with tions may well proceed better through the identification of
an occasional overgeneralising bias toward consequentialism (or common interests from which to reason, and of opposing inter-
whatever). In other words, if Barons hypothesis about biases ests to be respected, than through attempts to convict others of
arising from overgeneralisation is to be taken seriously, he has to fallacies in their reasoning.
describe some experimental method of demonstrating that the
principle against which such overgeneralisation operates is
always consequentialist.
It may be tempting for someone to claim that empirical Correct decisions and their good
evidence is not needed here, because consequentialism is in a
conceptually privileged position. Necessarily, one might say, we consequences
all want to achieve our various goals, whether these be the
Steven Daniel
maximisation of one's own pleasure or of someone else's plea-
Department of Philosophy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850
sures, or the continuance of existing patterns of behaviour, or
Electronic mall: sgd3@crux1.cit.cornell.edu
whatever. But this way out of the difficulty is not open to anyone
who wants, as Baron does, to be able to contrast, as appropriate, Baron argues for a normative model of decision making that is
behaviour conforming to the norm of goal-achievement and consequentialist because it holds that "the best decisions are
behaviour exhibiting this or that particular bias. If such biases those that yield the best consequences for achieving people's
can occur, it cannot be necessarily true that every principle goals." He says little about how to assess the goodness of
for decision making is motivated by a desire for goal achieve- consequences, and people will often disagree about which
ment. consequences of a decision are best (e.g., when evaluating them
A second major difficulty with Baron's hypothesis must now against competing goals). This will often be the case even if we
be considered. Why do we have to assume, in conducting are all trying to maximize some particular good, such as the
empirical research on the issue, that whatever norm is dominant quantity of happiness or pleasure our decisions produce. Still,
in one community is also dominant in another? From the fact assuming that these disagreements are resolvable in principle, I
that somewhere in the United States or Europe most subjects in think Baron is right that a normatively correct decision proce-
a group of sophomores, clinicians, judges, or legislators have a dure will have better consequences than a normatively incorrect
certain preference we cannot infer that "most people," that is, one. There may be particular instances in which this fails to
most people in the world, have that preference also. Conse- hold, where reasoning poorly might by accident have better
quentialism, with its consumer-oriented culture, may be much consequences than reasoning well; but such cases will be
more common in some parts of the world than in others. exceptional.
Elsewhere, perhaps, cross-cultural investigations that were What I find puzzling is the suggestion, implicit throughout
sufficiently thorough would reveal a preference for a conserva- Baron's target article, that these ideas are inconsistent with
tive ethic over a consequentialist one, or for conformity to a nonconsequentialist - or what we might call "deontological" -
supposedly revealed religious ethic over the permissiveness of theories of decision making. Baron leaves one with the impres-
secular tolerance. And, far from its being the case that the ideal sion that the nonconsequentialist denies that consequences are
for all people is to be able to achieve all their desires all the time, in any way relevant to determining the normative correctness of
there are Buddhists whose ideal is to have no desires of any kind. actions or decision rules. Surely this is not so. If it were, it is hard
Nor are individuals necessarily single-minded in their choice of to see why we should take nonconsequentialism seriously. If
norms, always allowing consequentialism, say, or conservatism following normatively correct decision rules were likely to have
to dominate their decision making. Many people are pluralists bad consequences, it is hard to see why we should care about
instead, allowing first one set of cultural values to dominate, normative correctness itself.
then another - perhaps as a result of the complex patterns of As I understand nonconsequentialists, they do not claim that
migration and intermixture that the accidents of human history the consequences of a decision rule are irrelevant to whether we
have produced in human society. should follow it or that they should in no way figure in our
A third major difficulty with Baron's hypothesis is now appar- evaluation of it. What they deny is that a rule's having the best
ent. If a pluralist account of the norms involved in decision overall consequences is constitutive of its correctness. When
making is correct from a descriptive point of view, it will they point to the consequences of a decision rule in the course of
inevitably also affect investigators' normative judgements about evaluating it, it is on the assumption that acting on a normatively
decision making. Specifically, if two investigators do not share correct rule will, as a matter of fact, yield the best consequences.
exactly the same system of norms, what one of them takes to be a So, nonconsequentialists take consequences to be relevant to
bias in a subject's decision making, the other may take to be a decision making; but these do not, in their view, constitute the
valid principle. And the situation is thus analogous to that which correctness of norms. If this is the proper way to understand
prevails (Cohen 1985; Gigerenzer 1993) in regard to so-called nonconsequentialists, they simply hold that it is not a necessary
cognitive biases. Subjects' responses to certain judgemental truth that normatively correct decision procedures will have the
tasks are interpreted by some investigators as exhibiting persis- best consequences overall. To them it appears at least logically

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 13


CommentarylBaron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

possible that by acting in accordance with normatively correct Why care where moral intuitions come from?
rules we might bring about consequences that are suboptimal,
or even disastrous. Susan Dwyer
An example: suppose I follow a set of decision rules I believe Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
to be normatively correct in the nonconsequentialist or deon- H3A2T7
Electronic mail: sue@philo.mcgill.ca
tological sense. Surely a Cartesian evil demon could ensure
that my following these rules would have bad consequences, and We all have strong, nonconsequentialist moral intuitions (here-
we would not view him as transferring the normative correct- after, NCMIs), which Baron suggests we would be better off
ness of one set of rules to another. Our original rules would without. Here I want to take up the issue of the alleged
remain normatively correct in spite of their bad consequences. problematicity, not just of NCMIs, but of moral intuitions in
Our acting upon rules that are normatively incorrect will in this general, for ethical theory. This focus will, I think, also show that
case yield the best consequences; but this, the nonconsequen- Baron's project is self-defeating. His argument for the epis-
tialist will insist, is at least within the realm of logical possi- temologically suspect nature of NCMIs generalizes to any type
bility. of moral intuition. Thus, if he is successful, Baron has given us
Baron might argue that there is something objectionable reason to reject his oiun view, because it is clearly driven by
about the nonconsequentialist's use of this example. Perhaps consequentialist intuitions.
there is; nevertheless it makes nonconsequentialism appear far About moral intuitions we might ask two questions. One is
more plausible than Baron's target article does. Baron does not psychological or sociological: Where do they come from? The
paint a clear picture of his opposition. other is epistemological: What role, if any, should they play in
Furthermore, if my characterization of nonconsequentialists moral theory? These questions are related, but Baron is not
is correct, they could easily accommodate the fact that subjects sensitive enough to the ways in which they are actually con-
who take themselves to be conforming to normatively correct nected in contemporary moral philosophy. Answers to the first
decision rules make decisions that are inconsistent and erro- question might constrain what count as correct answers to the
neous in various ways. Nonconsequentialists would simply second. Thus, imagine that our moral intuitions are beliefs
stress that it is very hard to show that the decision rules isolated implanted by evil Martians. If we took moral intuitions as
in these experiments are erroneous in the consequentialist epistemological bedrock, we would be wrong to set much store
sense, it being so difficult to assess their long-term conse-
by any moral theory constructed on the basis of such implanted
quences. And should they be erroneous in this sense, nonconse-
intuitions. Yet it is clear that no (living) moral philosopher who
quentialists are then perfectly free to endorse or condemn those
invokes intuitions with any degree of seriousness takes them to
decision rules on the basis of their consequences; their bad
have this foundational status (cf. Moore 1903; Rawls 1971;
consequences will simply not be believed to constitute their
Thomson 1986; 1990). My point is this: insofar as moral philoso-
incorrectness.
Why should the nonconsequentialist believe that good deci- phers appeal to moral intuitions in assessing moral principles,
sions will generally yield good consequences if this is not a and insofar as the enterprise of theory construction in ethics is
necessary truth? Well, it is hard to see how any decision (in part) one of systematizing our moral intuitions, it is certainly
procedure people actually use on a large scale can fail to be of interest where moral intuitions come from. But the degree to
justified from a consequentialist point of view. Otherwise, we which the source of moral intuitions matters will depend on
would have perished long ago. This point is emphasized by those one's answer to the epistemological question. If one holds, as
who hold that the rules we currently follow might confer some Rawls and many others do, that moral intuitions and moral
selective advantage, but Baron finds this claim suspect. He theory are mutually revisable, that theory ought never be held
points out that a rule might "engender its own survival" without wholly hostage to intuitions, then one will not be put off by
having a consequentialist justification. Barons assertion that some moral intuitions have a less than
respectable etiology. Indeed, the very point of the strategy of
However, we cannot say that a rule has an evolutionary basis,
or that it confers a selective advantage, simply because it reflective equilibrium is to provide the theorist with a principled
engenders its own survival. It will have an evolutionary basis means of rejecting some intuitions. Moral intuitions are not
only if it engenders our survival, and it will accomplish this only sacrosanct to anyone except the moral dogmatist. It does not
if it has a consequentialist justification (or perhaps its engender- follow from this that philosophers who invest moral intuitions
ing our survival would then be its consequentialist justification). with substantially less weight, that is, those who use them as
We might not be able to say what kind of selective advantage starting points in the process of reflective equilibrium, can
these rules confer; but we have been given no reason to believe afford to ignore the question of their origin. And perhaps Baron
they confer none. has shown that the etiology of NCMIs in particular is so undis-
tinguished that moral philosophers should set no store by them
Finally, a point about methodology. Baron argues that a
at all.
nonconsequentialist theory of decision making will depend too
So far as I can see, Baron's conclusion that NCMIs are nothing
strongly on our normative intuitions, when "intuitions about
decision rules . . . are suspect as the basic data for philosophical more than irrational biases is not warranted on the basis of
inquiry." That may be, but then Baron is just as badly off as the the empirical evidence alone. What Baron's experiments con-
nonconsequentialist. Consequentialism relies just as heavily on firm is what most of us knew all along, namely, that human
our intuitions about the goodness of various consequences as beings use consequentialist and nonconsequentialist decision
deontology relies on our intuitions about the Tightness of various rules. Rather, whatever plausibility his claim has derives from
rules. It does not offer us an Archimedean point from which to his speculation that NCMIs are the result of unreflective adher-
theorize about reasoning and decision making. The good news is ence to childhood admonitions (which were themselves hastily
that we do not need one. given by our caretakers), or are perverted overgeneralizations of
consequentialist considerations. Hence, the problematicity of
NCMIs depends on their having this sort of etiology. But Baron
gives us no reason to think that such intuitions are unique in this
respect. If the social and psychological processes responsible for
the formation of NCMIs are as robust as Baron seems to think, it
is equally plausible to argue that we arrive at some of our
consequentialist intuitions in the same way. Baron would appear
to face a dilemma: either all moral intuitions have the same
(problematic) source, in which case his own consequentialist

14 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
ones are to be doubted, or there is nothing peculiar or irrational reasoning problem in an experiment - we should look for
about NCMIs, and our current practice of moral reasoning does cognitive constraints, which in the case of deductive reasoning
not need the revisions to which he points. Indeed, it seems to arise from a range of linguistic and pragmatic factors (see Evans
me that Baron's studies, far from encouraging us to dispense et al. 1993).
with deontological reasoning, actually reveal the deep-seated Baron, however, uses consequentialism as a normative, not a
nature of our nonconsequentialist commitments. To ignore descriptive theory, from which he suggests systematic depar-
these is to fail to take seriously the depth and complexity of our tures frequently occur. This, he argues, happens because peo-
moral sensibilities. Their origin might be suspect, and we might ple follow rules, which may have been consequentialist when
find ourselves rejecting some of them. But given the relatively originally induced, but which are overgeneralised and applied
primitive stage of our scientific inquiry into morality, we need to where they do not produce a desirable outcome. Many apparent
hang on to all the data we can. examples of this are given in the target article. This part of the
Baron has thrown down a gauntlet that moral psychologists argument is essentially behaviourist: people are the victims of
ought to pick up. He is surely right to reject various teleological their past reinforcement history; their actions are not deter-
accounts of the origins of NCMIs, and I agree that philosophers mined directly by thoughts about consequences. However,
have not provided any "deep theory" of "where . . . decision Baron then proceeds to imply that people could be a lot more
rules come from." But I think there is a story to be told about the rational if only they took the time and trouble to think before
source of moral intuitions that certainly makes less problematic, acting.
and perhaps renders essential, a central role for them in the What does Baron mean by rule following? A central heating
construction and revision of moral theory. This story requires system may be said to be following rules when it turns itself on
taking the so-called linguistic analogy very seriously, pressing it and off at set times, or according to the ambient temperature of
far beyond Rawls's use of it in moral epistemology and into the building. However, I doubt that this is what Baron means by
substantive service in moral psychology. All moral agents have rule-governed behaviour in human beings. He means more than
moral intuitions; within cultural groups there is remarkable that the behaviour can be described by rules: he implies that the
convergence in these intuitions and they appear to arise in rules are internalised as the mechanisms responsible for behav-
agents on the basis of degenerate and partial input. These iour. In fact, he goes beyond this and appears to believe that the
phenomena are surely worth explaining, just as their linguistic rules form a part of people's explicit knowledge. This is implied
parallels are. And we have every reason to be optimistic that by such comments as, "Why would anyone invent or modify a
agents' moral intuitions (their NCMIs included) will provide rule and teach it to someone else?" or, "If the rule is badly stated,
insight into the structure of human moral competence, just as one corrective mechanism is critical thought about the rule
speakers' linguistic intuitions have shed light on the structure of itself."
our linguistic competence. I have some difficulty with this. It is one thing for people to be
biased by unconscious factors and implicit knowledge (see
Evans 1989) but another for them to behave irrationally on the
basis of explicitly held rules - accountable, as it were, to
conscious inspection. If people do this, then why not dispense
Normative and descriptive consequentialism with the rules altogether, and think about the goals instead? In
fact - and this is the crunch - how can we be sure that people are
Jonathan St. B. T. Evans not acting in such a way as to achieve their goals when their
Department of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, choices are, to Baron's mind, nonconsequential?
United Kingdom
Is consequentialism sustainable as a normative theory, as
Electronic mall: p02118@prime-a.plymouth.ac.uk
Baron would persuade us? As a model for rationality, the
Baron's target article bears on the issue of rationality in human proposal suffers from the well-recognised problem (at least since
reasoning. In the study of deduction, authors have had increas- Cohen 1981) of any externally imposed normative theory: the
ing difficulty defending rationality by the traditional criterion of subject's norms may not be those of the psychologist. For
logic (e.g., O'Brien 1993). However, several authors have sug- example, Baron argues that retribution - as opposed to deter-
gested recently that the rationality of inferences is better judged rence - is an irrational goal on which to base capital punishment.
on the basis of whether or not subjects are acting in such a way as But if retribution is a goal that people actually hold, then their
to achieve their goals (Evans 1993; Gigerenzer & Hug 1992; advocacy of the death penalty is consequential, and hence
Over & Manktelow 1993). Moreover, these authors have argued rational from their point of view. In the United Kingdom, for
that people are generally rational in this sense, despite their example, the death penalty was abolished many years ago, and
manifest lack of logicality. regular attempts to reintroduce it are voted down in parliament
An important qualification to my own view of rationality is by MPs who are unpersuaded by arguments of deterrence. A
that although people attempt to fulfil their goals, their success is majority of popular opinion, by contrast, continues to favour the
highly limited by a variety of cognitive constraints. This follows a death penalty, encouraged by highly sensationalist and emotive
worthy tradition of "bounded rationality" proposed by Herb coverage of murder cases in the popular press, with great
Simon (e.g., Newell & Simon 1972) and followed by many emphasis on retribution. It may be easy to decide which group
others, including the much maligned, in this context, Tversky you agree with, but is either to be deemed irrational, or
and Kahneman (see Kahneman et al. 1982, Preface). Thus, if nonconsequential from their own perspective?
behaviour is not - in Baron's term - consequential, the first Similar arguments can be made about the other phenomena
question I would ask is, What cognitive constraints might we discussed. Thus, Baron thinks it is irrational to prefer an inaction
identify to account for this? that causes more deaths to an action that causes fewer. But if
In this approach - consequentialism as a descriptive theory - people feel responsible for an action and feel much less responsi-
we can account for error in human reasoning in two different ble for an inaction, then their (peace of mind) goal is achieved by
ways. First, we might argue that although subjects are being the decisions they actually take. In short, although Baron is able
illogical, their behaviour nevertheless serves their goals. For to argue morally that people do not act in such a way as to
example, if people have a goal of maintaining a coherent and achieve the goals that society deems desirable, it is much harder
consistent set of beliefs, then some of the findings attributed to to argue psychologically that people do not act in such a way as to
confirmation or belief biases are easier to understand. When achieve their personal goals.
subjects are manifestly not acting in such a way as to achieve In conclusion, I believe that consequentialism as a descriptive
their goals - for instance, the goal of solving an artificial approach can help provide insight into the causes of error in

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Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
human reasoning and judgement, but I am far from persuaded of Baron does not provide a solution to the problem of defining
its utility as a normative theory in the way Baron proposes. "consequence." He does, however, imply that the solution to
Moreover, I am unconvinced by his own descriptive theory, this problem will not depend on intuition, because he says that
which posits an unlikely combination of slavish, unthinking, consequentialism eliminates the need for intuitions in norma-
rule following with explicit awareness of these rules and the tive theories. If one attempts to apply consequentialism to any
ability to discard and rewrite them as a matter of conscious particular situation, however, it seems that it is still necessary to
choice. rely on intuitions. For example, consider the issue of whether
abortion should be legal. Imagine a person who says, "It makes
me sick to think of abortions being performed in my city." This
person is saying that one consequence of legalized abortion is his
Consequentialism and utility theory negative emotional experience. Should this type of conse-
quence be taken into account? What principles can we use to
Deborah Frisch determine the types of consequences that should be excluded
Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403 from an analysis? It seems that one needs to rely on intuitions
Electronic mail: dfrisch@oregon.uoregon.edu
about the types of consequences that are legitimate. The point is
In this target article, Baron provides a defense of consequential- that even if one adopts a consequentialist perspective, one still
ism as a normative model of decision making and reports several needs to rely on intuitions about what sorts of consequences to
empirical studies demonstrating violations of the model. The include and how to weight the relative importance of different
normative claim is that one's choice should be based on only the types of consequences.
anticipated consequences of different possible actions. The Thus far, I have contrasted Baron's normative standard of
descriptive claim is that there are conditions under which consequentialism with the traditional normative model, utility
people's choices are based on factors other than anticipated theory. It is also useful to contrast Baron's empirical methodol-
consequences. I basically agree with these claims and shall ogy with the methods typically used in behavioral decision
discuss some of their implications. research. Much research involves a design in which a certain
The studies described are part of a large body of research in factor (such as framing or response mode) is varied between
behavioral decision making demonstrating that people's choices subjects and the responses of the two groups are compared. In
sometimes violate normative standards of rational decision mak- contrast, many of the studies described by Baron use a within-
ing. The normative standard Baron uses, consequentialism, subjects design. More important, in the research described,
however, is slightly different from the normative standard most subjects not only stated their preferences but were also asked to
commonly used, which is subjective expected utility theory explain their choices or to provide assessments of the desir-
(Savage 1954). To see the difference between the two perspec- ability of different outcomes. This methodology revealed strik-
tives it is useful to ask the question, "Do empirical phenomena ing examples of inconsistency, such as cases in which people's
choices were inconsistent with their own assessments of the
that violate expected utility theory also violate the normative
desirability of different outcomes.
standard of consequentialism?"
The finding that people's choices might not reflect their
Researchers have demonstrated a wide variety of empirical
assessments of the desirability of different outcomes has several
phenomena that violate expected utility theory, including the
disturbing implications. First, it raises the question, "Which
preference reversal phenomenon (Lichtenstein & Slovic 1971),
response (choice versus assessment of consequences) reflects
framing effects (Kahneman & Tversky 1984), the certainty effect
subjects' 'true preferences'?" That is, is one mode of response a
(Kahneman & Tversky 1979), and the sunk cost effect (Arkes &
more valid measure of preferences than the other? Second, it
Blumer 1985). One of the most striking violations of utility raises the issue of whether public policy should be based on
theory is the framing effect, which demonstrates that the way a people's choices (i.e., the policies people vote for) or people's
situation is described or framed influences people's choices. assessments of the desirability of different consequences. To the
Although framing effects are a violation of utility theory, it is not extent that these two measures diverge, it is very difficult to
clear that they violate the standard of consequentialism. It arrive at a coherent policy.
depends on how one defines "consequence."
How does one decide whether a factor such as framing should In sum, I think Baron's target article raises several very
be viewed as influencing the consequence of a decision? For important questions. First, it highlights the importance of
specifying the factors involved in defining "consequences."
decisions that are made on behalf of other people (as many of
Second, it shows the difficulty of determining what people's true
Baron's examples are), it is reasonable to claim that framing
preferences are. In particular, people's choices may not neces-
should not be considered part of the consequence of the deci-
sarily reflect their preferences; if not, then future research will
sion. However, for decisions made on behalf of oneself, the
need to specify the conditions under which choices do and do
answer is less clear. In that case, it seems plausible that framing
not reflect preferences.
can influence the consequence (Kahneman & Tversky 1984). In
particular, framing might influence people's experience of the
outcome of a decision, in which case it seems reasonable to
include framing in the definition of consequences (Frisch &
Jones 1993). There is empirical evidence suggesting that under Is consequentialism better regarded as a
certain conditions framing does influence people's experience of form of reasoning or as a pattern of
the outcome of a decision (Levin & Gaeth 1988).
My analysis thus far suggests that some of the most serious behavior?
violations of utility theory may actually be consistent with
Steve Fuller
consequentialism. The more general point is that a shift from a
Department of Communication, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
focus on utility theory as a normative standard to a focus on
15260
consequentialism highlights the importance of specifying the
Electronic mail: fuller@vms.cis.pitt.edu
factors that are considered legitimate aspects of the conse-
quences of a decision. Although this question also comes up in I find Baron's research and policy orientation toward normative
discussions of utility theory (see, for example, Machina 1989), I consequentialism particularly congenial. A- big advance that
think that the consequentialist argument developed in this psychologists have made over philosophers in their studies of
paper makes the difficulty and importance of the issue much rationality is to take seriously the difference between evaluating
more salient. and improving performance (Baron's "normative' vs. "prescrip-

16 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
tive" perspectives). I have pursued a line of inquiry similar to good by giving students ready-made rationalizations for what-
Baron's with regard to reorienting normative philosophy of ever they decide to do.
science on the basis of psychological and sociological evidence (3) Baron may have dismissed too quickly Schick's (1991) point
that traditional norms of scientific rationality have little basis in that when subjects seem to make nonnormative decisions, they
scientific practice (Fuller 1993). My comments, then, are those may in fact be making normative decisions, once their implicit
of a fellow traveler. frame of reference is understood. I agree with Baron that Schick's
Consequentialism rests on the idea that norms can be ex-
pressed as "if-then" statements. What follows the "then' is a But there is also the general point that when subjects are in a
judgment or action that constitutes a decision. But what follows position to frame their own goals, they may presuppose a more
the "if"? Here are two possibilities: complex decision-making environment than the one provided in
(a) a goal (i.e., a consequence of the decision that is desired by Baron's experiments. Two additional dimensions come imme-
the subject); diately to mind as relevant to real-life analogues to the vaccine
(b) a context (i.e., a situation that calls forth a response, case: options to postpone a decision indefinitely or at least until
namely, the decision). more information is obtained and other goals that simul-
The difference between (a) and (b) reflects a difference in how taneously compete for the resources - both cognitive and fiscal -
one conceptualizes the subject in the experiments Baron cites. available for making the decision. In real life, one rarely has to
Are subjects individuals who frame the context of action for make just one decision right now. (Not surprisingly, the classic
themselves, that is, select their own goals? Or, are subjects ethics textbook cited by Baron, Sidgwick [1907], presents utili-
provided the context by the experimenter and expected to tarianism not as a first-order norm but as a meta-norm for
respond accordingly? Only the former interpretation (a) allows resolving competing moral demands.) Perhaps all this boils
a proper test of consequentialism as a normative theory of down to a plea for greater ecological validity in the subjects'
rationality. If (a) and (b) are run together - as I believe they are decision-making environments before their decisions are evalu-
by Baron - then his consequentialism reverts to a form of ated. Ironically, this plea had already been made by behavior-
behaviorism, one akin to Skinner's operant conditioning, in ists, who detected unrealistic assumptions about what might be
which the subjects' cognitive (deliberative) processes are no called the "instant (ir)rationality" of subjects in experimental
longer relevant as long as the subjects respond in a way cognitive psychology (Rachlin et al. 1986).
that subsequently betters their chances of getting what they Finally, I am struck by the remarkable lack of irony in the way
want. Baron starts his target article. Baron aligns himself with the
Consider the first experiment Baron cites to demonstrate philosophical tradition in wanting to evaluate reasoning by its
departures from consequentialism. Subjects must decide form rather than by its consequences - even in the case of
whether they would vaccinate children against the flu, given consequentialism! Yet, "functionalists" in sociology and anthro-
certain death rates associated with getting the flu and with pology have long claimed that whole cultures routinely violate
getting the vaccine. As it turned out, whether they saw them- consequentialist norms because of the desirable consequences
selves as parents or policymakers, the subjects erred on the side that follow from such violations. Rain dances that are arbitrary
of protecting children from possible death from the vaccine, from the standpoint of explaining or predicting rainfall may be
even if it meant increasing their chances of dying from the flu. latently instrumental in maintaining group solidarity, a meta-
But, Baron notes, it was possible to correct the bias by making goal, one might say, that is a precondition for individuals
the so-called Colden Rule argument to the subjects. What sorts achieving any other goal in the society. Admittedly, the inter-
of considerations might lead one to conclude that this experi- pretation of such practices is controversial (e.g., Elster 1984),
ment fails to demonstrate the force of consequentialism as a but a consequentialist should remain open-minded about the
normative theory of rationality? I offer three: possibility that the long-term consequences of violating certain
(1) Clearly, the subjects did not select the goal under terms of consequentialist norms may actually be better than adhering to
which their decisions would be evaluated. Once a decision was such norms. Moreover, as amply witnessed in the resistance
made, it was evaluated by a consequentialist norm, whose that met Jeremy Benthams legislative reforms, when a norm is
validity had been established outside the experimental setting known not to produce desirable consequences in all cases, it
and did not require the consent of the subjects. Subsequently, may be better to circumvent or compensate for it in the particu-
arguments were introduced to make the subjects' responses lar cases than to design a more comprehensively consequential-
approximate the norm more closely. Why is this not simply an ist norm.
instance of psychologists shaping the verbal behavior of sub-
jects, with no particular implications about cognitive or deliber-
ative processes?
(2) Moreover, why should one think that the ability to make
Moral errors
normatively appropriate decisions in response to hypothetical Clark Glymour
situations would translate into normatively appropriate forms of
Department of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
action in real-life settings? After all, when social psychologists 15213
try to identify the norms governing a community, the conclu- Electronic mall: clark.glymour@andrew.cmu.edu
sions they reach can vary tremendously depending on whether
the investigator focuses on what people regularly do, what they I found Baron's target article very interesting, the kind of thing
say the norms are, what sanctions they impose on the actions of that makes you want to have a beer and an argument with the
others, or what they say in response to hypothetical situations guy. So I hope he will forgive my customary indignant and
(Collett 1977). These different normative indicators are typically critical tone.
reinforced in different environments, and it is by no means clear The paper invokes a moral parallel with studies of human
that a change in one such environment - say, subjects coming to irrationality in deciding empirical questions. The latter work has
make the right hypothetical decisions - has any straightforward several sides, including (1) empirical studies revealing ways
implications for change in the other environments. This point is people make such decisions, (2) explicit comparisons with alter-
of special import for Baron, whose pedagogical agenda seems to native decisions that experimenters claim to be normative, and
include instilling consequentialist norms at a verbal level with- (3) studies in which human decision making is shown to be
out providing environments designed to put those norms into objectively suboptimal (e.g., comparisons of the accuracy of
practice. A cynic may justly wonder whether Baron's purely expert prediction with that of prediction by regression). The
verbal training in consequentialism might do more harm than studies Baron reviews and proposes are parallels to (1) and (2). I

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 17


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

think questions of how people come to have their moral sensi- reasons one might have relevant to P or not P, and now what
bilities are interesting in themselves, but Baron's project only reason could there be for ~P? Clearly none; therefore P.
has implications for education and for policy if there is a moral Assuming I am not anomalous, the structure of morality does
parallel to part (2), and there is only such a parallel if there is a not much look like rule utilitarianism or any heuristic version of
normative standard in ethics comparable to that used in studies utilitarianism. I would be amazed if the way children learn
of empirical decision making. So is there? morality is to mislearn utilitarian rules, which is what Baron's
One thought is that Bayesian decision theory - which seems line of inquiry conjectures. I am not even sure that I understand
to be the common cognitive norm assumed in psychological what Baron means when he suggests that we learn some un-
studies of human judgment - is also a moral norm. But then utilitarian ethical preferences by "overgeneralizing.' Does he
nothing substantive follows from the norm without a specifica- mean, for example, that children mischaracterize what their
tion or elicitation of probabilities and utilities. In particular, moral instructors would say in other circumstances? Does he
nothing follows for or against distinction between omission and mean that children have some internal, inarticulate, utilitarian
commission, which is what seems particularly to concern Baron. standard natively, which in learning moral dispositions they
Another proposal is utilitarianism: various outcomes have speci- mischaracterize? What fact is it about the world that children
fiable values to persons according to objective features of the "overgeneralize'? I think the answer must be none of the above;
people (e.g., how much stuff they already have), and right children who form moral dispositions Baron disapproves of have
actions are those that maximize the expected utility (averaged not made any sort of inferential error at all.
over all persons). There are lots of reasons to think utilitarianism I found Baron's suggestions about practical implications of his
is an incoherent norm: there is no empirical basis for compari- project very strange, sort of like falling off a cliff with someone
sons of utility across persons - vaguely egalitarian principles are and on the way down he complains about your bad breath and
a common substitute for evidence; there is no way to aggregate offers a stick of chewing gum. Consider one of his examples: free
probabilities and utilities from different people and satisfy trade. Baron says utilitarian education might remove the argu-
simple rational principles; it is doubtful that people even have ment that it is wrong to cause wealth to be redistributed, or
relevant probability judgments concerning remote outcomes; something like that. The concern that some not be harmed to
depending on how utilities are distributed and compared, maxi- benefit others appears easily defeated by compensation prom-
mizing the average can require us to reduce the number of ises. Witness Mr. Clinton. Some of the serious arguments
people in the world to one, the utility monster. Utilitarianism against free-trade policies show what is wrong with utilitari-
always was and remains a piece of social pseudoscience. anism as it is now found in public policy, that is, as cost-benefit
The structure of actual norms is not just nonutilitarian around analysis. One serious argument is that what is lost when an
the edges. I do not suppose I am morally abnormal in most industry collapses is not just money; it is community. People lose
respects, and I could not work less like an egalitarian utilitarian. their friends, their neighbors, their traditions, the company of
Many of my goals concern fulfilling a set of responsibilities that their adult children. Things fall apart. We have no scale to
have a kind of ordering of importance, with responsibilities to measure those sorrows. Welfare economists image one, the way
children outweighing responsibilities to parents and spouse, you might imagine a diamond as big as the Ritz.
outweighing responsibilities to work, outweighing respon- Psychological inquiry is relevant to free-trade disputes, and so
sibilities acquired through promises to others, outweighing a are ethical considerations, but not, I think, in Baron's way. The
general responsibility to do good where it is easy and to do no most obvious connection is an issue' in social psychology: how
harm unless it is justified. I have an elaborate if inarticulate does a discipline, economics, that claims to be scientific, come
collection of sensibilities about when harm is justified. Other- to enshrine and advocate a doctrine - the advantage to any and
wise, I want personally to prosper, to be esteemed by others, all parties of unrestricted free trade - without a shred of
and to be able to esteem myself; I want the same for almost empirical evidence for the proposition? The arguments for the
everyone, but I am prepared to make costly efforts to those ends mutual advantages of free trade are almost entirely theoretical,
only for those I care about. I do not at all think I am obliged to based on analysis of interactions of two nations under circum-
treat others who are remote from me as moral equals of loved stances that do not apply even approximately to any country in
ones and friends; I have never put a Somali through college. I do the world. The ethical considerations are equally obvious: ac-
not seriously entertain the general proposition that actively cess to the U. S. market is a still a prize that some other nations,
doing good should excuse predictable harmful consequences; such as Mexico, are willing to pay a price to obtain; should we
and I do not want other people to do so either; otherwise, not make decent economic treatment of Mexican citizens - a
checking into a hospital would be dangerous. I have an elabo- decent minimum wage, worker safety, enforced laws against
rate, and again inarticulate, system of views about deference and externalizing costs, a judicial system that is not corrupt - part of
autonomy; I defer to others in acknowledging their rights to act that price? You don't have to be any kind of utilitarian to answer
in all kinds of ways without interference from me, and I expect that question.
others to defer to me. One of my principal goals is to keep my
realm of autonomy. In certain contexts (probably too few) I defer
to others' opinions about what is right, wrong, or prudent. Only
in very special contexts - for example, when I was a department
head and had to make policy decisions - have I deliberately tried
to figure out what action would be best on average over all Consequences of consequentialism
concerned, all things considered.
Rick Grush
I think the structure of ethical judgment is similar in many Departments of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, University of California,
people. Looking over this structure, I am inclined to endorse it. San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0302
Electronic mail: rgrush@sdcc3.ucsd.edu
Maybe that is wrong. Maybe it would be better if we were more
like egalitarian utilitarians, but I do not see any rational demon- I would like to begin by dissociating two strands of Baron's target
stration of that proposition. (I suppose there are some moral article, the moral and the epistemological. I will argue that his
sentiments I have that I could be persuaded not to act on, ethical claims are interesting, but not beyond question, and that
because they are irrational; for example, I vote out of a vague the epistemological issues he raises (as well as some he does not)
sense of civic duty.) The argument Baron gives in the first part of are of central importance.
his target article to establish some such thing is so much First, even if one is a "consequentialist," two different phases
philosophical argle-bargle. The structure of the argument seems of the reasoning process can be distinguished. The first concerns
to be this: In considering whether or not P, we must set aside any the prediction of the consequences of various actions and the

18 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

estimation of their "utility.' The second concerns the ethical When normative models take the form of formalized systems,
question: "What should I do?" - that is, even given total such as inductive logic or expected utility calculus, it is natural to
knowledge of all consequences of candidate actions, the ethical think of deviations from the standard as the imperfect applica-
question of what to do remains. That they are in principle tion of those very standards. Thus we are led to a view of human
distinct follows from their dissociability - one can be "good" at performance that posits some sort of normatively adequate
either while being "bad" at the other. competence embodied (somehow) in our cognitive apparatus, a
I first want to point out that bare consequentialism qua competence of which we are unable to take full advantage
normative moral theory is not obviously adequate. The seed of because of biases and the suboptimal functioning of related
the problem is that it justifies "unfair" treatment, specifically, cognitive "modules" (such as short-term memory).
the benefit of some through the harm of others. I say it is the Normatively, this may be acceptable. And perhaps for de-
seed of the problem because unfairness itself may not always be scriptive purposes one can get by by positing a rational "lan-
viewed as a problem. In fact, the examples Baron gives of guage of thought" and adding epicycles to account for deviations
relative farmer incomes and of harm inflicted unfairly upon from the standard, even if our cognitive architecture is not really
people dependent on gasoline by increasing the gasoline tax a "language of thought." But the prescriptive enterprise, to be
seem to support his point that unfairness may not always be fully effective, should have an accurate picture of human cogni-
wrong. But these are relatively innocuous examples of unfair- tive architecture and representational capacities. It is not
ness. The seed grows when greater numbers of people are taken enough to compile lists of biases. Johnson-Laird (1983) takes a
into consideration because it will always be possible to justify step in this direction, as do Johnson (1987) and Lakoff (1987). In
arbitrarily unfair hardships to a few when it results in a benefit the philosophical literature, criticism of normative models as
to enough others. characterizations of unpolluted cognitive competence has been
To see the force of the last point, consider the following. provided by Churchland (1979; 1989) and Stich (1990).
Utility calculations must take into account the benefits and My point, which is not necessarily at odds with anything
harms experienced by all people (and perhaps animals and Baron says, is simply that prescriptive epistemology should look
plants as well). But surely "all people" must include not just to psychology not only for lists of biases, and so forth, but also for
those currently living, but future generations as well (presum- theories of cognitive architecture that account for deviations and
ably, this is part of the motivation for environmentalists). No that suggest useful improvements because they are actually true
doubt this number is tremendous, perhaps in the trillions or of the brain.
more. Now suppose that some small benefit could be bestowed
on all these people, such as a fast painless treatment for the
elimination of all warts. Suppose further that such a treatment
could be developed, but it would require painful, drawn out
experimentation and vivisection of a hundred or so people Truth or consequences
(determined at random). In principle, such a practice could be
justified. A consequentialist ethic will have to provide some John Heil
means for assigning utility to things like wart elimination and Department of Philosophy, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28036
Electronic mail: joheil@apollo.davidson.edu
painful death in order to get off the ground, and without some
sort of provision for "fairness" or basic human rights or dignities How are we to evaluate claims to the effect that consequential-
it will be possible to justify the most heinous atrocities commit- ism provides a correct normative or descriptive account of
ted on a few, provided sufficient benefit accrues to the many (and rational decision? On the one hand, such claims might be
provided that the same benefits cannot be obtained by less harsh interpreted as pertaining to the character of principles govern-
methods). I chose a medical example because in these cases the ing or ideally governing agents' decisions. On the other hand,
gains are likely to affect many future generations and because they might be taken to concern, not principles deployed by
the nature of medical research is sometimes unpleasant (as actual or ideal agents, but the character of the justification or
"animal rights" literature makes clear). [See also Dawkins: explanation of those principles. The cases come apart because it
"From an Animal's Point of View" BBS 13(1) 1990.] could easily turn out that nonconsequentialist principles em-
Two final points on this issue. First, the argument above does braced by agents like us yield better outcomes - judged conse-
not rely on the actual occurrence of situations such as the one quentially -than do consequentialist principles (e. g, see Railton
sketched. Though I think that many unfairnesses most of us 1984). Owing to contingent biological, psychological, and envi-
would find morally unacceptable could probably be justified on ronmental factors, it might be true of us that we fare better by
consequentialist grounds, the point is that bare consequential- instilling nonconsequentialist principles and encouraging their
ism provides no principled way to rule such possibilities out, and development in others. If Mother Nature is a consequentialist,
this should worry us. then undoubtedly she has a hand in this process. Consequential-
Second, it will be possible to sneak such considerations in the ism might, in this way, succeed by concealing itself. Under the
back door, as it were, by factoring the horror, and other emo- circumstances, we should expect our intuitions about cases
tions we (should) feel at the violation of such basic rights into the occasionally to yield judgments different from those mandated
utility calculation. But if this horror at human rights violations is by explicitly consequentialist principles.
going to be a constant in all utility calculations then we might be Imagine that our everyday assessments of the merit of options
better advised to factor it out of the consequentialist ethic and open to us were based on estimates of the probability and
treat it (basic human dignities, etc.) as a separate ethical con- relative desirability of potential outcomes. Outcomes depend on
straint or constraints on a par with, rather than subordinate to, endless factors about which we may be partly or entirely igno-
expected utility (especially when education policy is being rant, however, and their relative desirability may be difficult to
discussed). gauge. I am faced with a choice of telling the truth or lying to my
That said, I would like to turn to epistemological concerns. I boss. The truth may hurt, but lying could have repercussions I
can agree with Baron that the ability to reason clearly about am at a loss to evaluate. Under the circumstances, my ends
consequences is in general to be desired, even if one does not might be better served by my inculcation of a nonconsequential-
always, for whatever reason, choose courses of action that have ist, deontological principle that forbids lying per se. Having
the greatest bare utility. This improvement of reasoning is, as embraced such a principle, I might blunder in various ways on
Baron correctly notes, the task of prescriptive (and derivatively, particular occasions. I might find myself compelled to tell the
descriptive) epistemology; I would like to close by offering some truth when the consequences of my so doing would be disas-
methodological cautions. trous. Suppose, in contrast, I were endowed with finer-grained

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 19


Commentaryi'Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
principles tailored to allow for exceptions in light of special compel us to acquire nonconsequentialist motives, however.
circumstances. Such principles might prove self-defeating, how- And if that is so, we should not be surprised when intuitions
ever. They might be unwieldy, or they might inhibit social about cases, and so our judgments, exhibit nonconsequentialist,
bonds founded on trust, and so make me worse off on the whole. deontological "biases."
This should not be read as an endorsement of a nonconse-
quentialist conception of rationality. The idea, rather, is that
consequentialism could well enjoin us to adopt nonconsequen-
tialist outlooks and attitudes. Nor should it be supposed that
nonconsequentialist principles we have embraced are really Elicitation rules and incompatible goals
consequentialist in nature, because they are explained or war-
ranted consequentially. The content of a principle must be Julie R. Irwin
distinguished from its justification or explanation. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820
Electronic mail: jirwin@s.psych.uiuc.edu
Baron's discussion of punishment provides a nice illustration
of what I have in mind. Imagine that the social institution of Now that decision theorists are resigned to the occurrence of
punishment were warranted on the grounds that threats of systematic variation in preferences and values by elicitation
punishment serve as deterrents. How, then, do we account for mode, researchers with an interest in decision quality are left
retributivist intuitions many of us have about particular cases? with the task of evaluating which value, if any, of people's range
Well, suppose that, for creatures like us, punishment deters of expressed values is the best. Clearly, inconsistency of prefer-
only so long as we harbor retributivist attitudes toward it. If I ence over elicitation mode is not rational, but inconsistency is
expect to be punished for certain sorts of act even when my robust and prevalent, and psychological theories of rational
being so punished produces no benefit, I may be less inclined to choice must not only demand consistency but also make explicit
engage in acts of that sort than otherwise. the reasons why certain values are to be preferred to others.
Reason, traditionally, is divided into intellectual, or epis- Baron has proposed a simple, general rule to separate good (i.e.,
temic, and practical components. Epistemic reason governs normative) preferences from bad ones: unfortunately, the appli-
belief; practical reason, action. Baron focuses on the latter. In cation of the rule is left a bit unexplored, especially for cases in
his view, practical reason operates, and ought to operate on which there are contradictory best outcomes of a decision.
consequentialist principles. Errors and biases result from "over- In Baron's formulation, people have personal goals (or sets of
generalizing" these principles. I am envisaging a different sort of goals); the best decision maximizes the accomplishment of those
accounting for these same errors and biases within a consequen- goals. This principle implies that disparate goals can be inte-
tialist framework, one that receives a measure of support from a grated into one metagoal, that there are single "best conse-
consideration of the relation of epistemic and practical reason. quences" of a decision, and that we would "judge them [to be
It is natural to imagine that, whereas practical reason is best consequences] in the absence of a decision." The notion
concerned with desire satisfaction, epistemic reason aims at that there is a single best consequence (or set of tied conse-
truth. Certainly we value patterns of reasoning that increase the quences) resulting from a single integrated goal is central to
probability that our beliefs are true. But why is truth valuable? Baron's thesis, but the process by which goals get integrated and
Again, it is natural to suppose that we are better off with true consequences evaluated is left vague.
beliefs; whatever our ends, we are more likely to attain them if Decisions are difficult when they require forgoing some
we believe what is true (see Campbell 1974). Indeed, it may attractive attributes to obtain others. Consequentialism would
seem obvious that a creature whose beliefs were largely false imply that attributes that are less likely to accomplish our goals
would find its practical ends difficult or impossible to achieve. should be traded in favor of attributes that are more likely to lead
Note, however, that a conception of this sort assigns truth an us toward what we want. The decision problem becomes more
instrumental role in deliberation: truth has value chiefly be- subtle, however, when different attributes favor different goals;
cause it promotes other ends that we happen to value. (This is for example, we want to win a tennis tournament that we cannot
not to say that truth, like almost anything else, could not have win fairly, but we want to behave fairly. Complex and risky items
noninstrumental, intrinsic value for some creature, only that its such as environmental changes force people to make especially
significance need not depend on its having intrinsic value.) difficult trade-offs among compelling and often conflicting goals
What of those cases in which we should be better off without (e.g., personal immediate pleasure, safety, benefits for future
true belief? Sometimes the truth hurts too much, sometimes it generations, desire to save money). As Baron implies, different
obliterates important ends and projects. True belief, or belief elicitation modes produce differential emphases on certain
proportioned to the evidence, often enough promotes our ends, types of attributes and goals. When faced with departing from
but it need not. I may accomplish more by repressing well- the status quo, for example, people may decide "if it ain't broke,
founded doubts about my likelihood of success; I may benefit don't fix it," and make a different choice from the one they may
from self-deception, just as I may benefit from deceiving others have made under another elicitation mode - with its own
(indeed the two sorts of deception may be related; see Alexander (different) rule. Baron shows legitimate concern over this incon-
1979, pp. 134-39). sistency of preference due to elicitation-mode rules and at-
tempts to understand the inconsistency by understanding the
Suppose, then, that we regard epistemic reason as subserving source and application of the rules. Understanding the rules is
practical ends. Given our fallibility and our circumstances, only part of the problem, though. Without the next step of
these ends may require that we inculcate truth-linked, noncon- determining which conflicting aspects of a decision are empha-
sequential, deontological epistemic principles. These will lead sized by given rules and then postulating which aspects are most
to misfortune occasionally, but given our psychological and important for an integrated, best consequence, it is difficult to
biological constitution and our circumstances, they may be link the psychological process of decision-rule application with
clearly preferable to consequentialist counterparts (for a de- the normative standard of consequentialism.
tailed discussion of this view, see Heil 1992).
The issues here are subtle. I have suggested that the very Research on how people evaluate environmental changes has
considerations that make consequentialist conceptions of ratio- illustrated how elicitation-mode rules can differentially empha-
nality attractive should lead us to distinguish (1) principles on size incompatible goals. For example, when subjects are asked
which agents act or ought to act, from (2) principles relative to to evaluate environmental improvements (e.g., an increase in
which the former principles are justified or explained. Our air quality) and market trades (e.g., a trade from a worse
psychology, biology, and environment encourage the adoption television to a better one), they are more likely to prefer the
of consequentialist decision strategies. Consequentialism may environmental improvements when they are choosing or rating

20 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary I V>&r on: Nonconsequentialist decisions
than when they are providing buying prices (Brown 1984; Irwin Baron reminds us of the literature that details cases in which
etal. 1993; Magatetal. 1988). Subjects also prefer environmen- we violate one or another principle laid down in, for example,
tal trades more when they are providing selling prices than decision theory and probability theory (in its manifestation as a
when they are providing buying prices (Gregory 1986; Irwin, in calculus of belief). In consequence, decision theory and proba-
press). Evaluations among market commodities and environ- bility theory cannot be thought of as purely descriptive; they
mental improvements force the competing goal issue because must be thought of as having at least some normative force.
market commodities are likely to satisfy goals (such as personal However, it is vital that they are closely answerable to the
satisfaction) that are quite different from environmental changes descriptive facts.
(which carry a heavy moral component). Indeed, in Irwin's (in There are two reasons for this. The first is a familiar point
press) study, the correlation between ratings of moral aspects about interpretation. In deciding what a person believes and
and prices is significantly higher in selling modes than in buying desires we are of necessity required to work from what they do
modes, indicating differential attention to goals in the two in circumstances. We do this by assigning them the beliefs and
modes. desires that by and large make sense of what they do in
Baron's research suggests that buying/selling discrepancies circumstances. But the beliefs and desires that: by and large
are a result of omission and status quo rules; the desire to "do no make sense of what they do are those that would make what they
harm" and "stay put" requires attention to morally harmful do maximise expected utility! If what someone does is too far
aspects of trading for a worse environmental situation in selling removed from what they ought to do according to decision
modes, but the absence of such rules allows for attention to more theory, we lose our entitlement to hold that they are believers
personal concerns in buying modes. For a consequentialist, and desirers at all.
though, explaining the source of inconsistency is not enough; The second reason concerns rationality. Our best approach to
given that people do have both moral and personal goals, we what counts as rational is that encapsulated in the familiar
need some way of evaluating what environmental values best reflective equilibrium story mentioned by Baron. A crucial part
express people's.preferred consequences. of this story is that the irrational gets recognised sooner or later
Baron states that consequences should be judged apart from as such by most of us provided we are on our toes. Those who do
particular decision processes; decisions should show the same the irrational thing, typically, though not invariably, acknowl-
rank order as their consequences, if the consequences were edge that it is irrational when the matter is drawn to their
themselves evaluated "in the absence of a decision." This formu- attention and conform their future behaviour more closely to
lation makes sense because it allows the consequences to remain what is rational.
impervious to fluctuations in value due to elicitation mode. The The centrally important difference in the case of departures
application is difficult, though partly because the judgment of from consequentialist decision making is that so many of them
consequence often occurs in some elicitation context. When are robust departures. I am sympathetic to consequentialism
faced with a choice among consequences, people are likely to and find it hard to see why many nonconsequentialists think
construct their choices on line (Gregory et al. 1993; Payne et al. that, for instance, the distinction between doing and allowing is
1992), just as they do other sorts of choices, and constructed morally crucial, or, alternatively, that the distinction between
preferences are subject to elicitation effects. The key is to what is directly intended and what is merely foreseen is morally
measure preference for consequence without eliciting prefer- crucial. But I cannot pretend that the view that one or both of
ences; Baron attempts to do this for several of his decision these distinctions are morally important is akin to accepting the
classes by positing what the best consequences must, logically, gamblers' fallacy, or to giving a conjunction greater credence
be - punishment must produce deterrence, compensation than one of its conjuncts. Highly intelligent, rational people
should depend on the nature of the injury, and so on. But for the persist in maintaining the importance of one or both of these
policy maker, for example, who wishes to discern which of a distinctions even after exhaustive discussion of the question.
wide range of values is the true (or best) one for a given I suspect that the difference between those of a fundamentally
environmental change, such logic rules are not readily available, consequentialist frame of mind in ethics and those of a resolutely
in part because that one value must satisfy a number of equally nonconsequentialist frame of mind is like the difference be-
viable goals. To be of help to policy makers and others in need of tween one- and two-boxers about Newcomb's problem. Con-
normative standards, the consequentialist approach should ex- sensus among highly intelligent, rational people on whether to
plicate how inconsistent consequences are to be evaluated, two-box or to one-box in Newcomb's problem is notoriously
including guidelines for how trade-offs among goals can be absent even after the most exhaustive discussion of the issues
resolved to lead to one, best, decision. (Nozick 1969). In the case of decision theory we can remain
reasonably relaxed about the dissension. In practice, it hardly
ever matters. By contrast, the difference between consequen-
tialist and nonconsequentialist approaches to what ought to be
done is highly relevant to many decisions we face every day.
Departing from consequentialism versus
departing from decision theory
Frank Jackson
Philosophy Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian
On begging the question when naturalizing
National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia norms
Electronic mail: fcj@coombs.anu.edu.au
We think of certain departures from the principles encapsulated Leonard D. Katz
in probability theory, logic, decision theory, and Bayesian con- Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139
firmation theory as irrational. For example, it is irrational to be
Electronic mail: lkatz@athena.mit.edu
more confident of the truth of a conjunction than of one of its
conjuncts, and this norm corresponds to the fact that a conjunc- Baron believes that "in any inquiry about what norms we should
tion cannot be more probable than either of its conjuncts. endorse, it is important that we put aside the norms we already
Should we think of departures from consequentialist principles have, lest we beg the question" and that for the same reason we
in the same way? I think this is a good question for Baron to have should also "put aside goals that derive from those standards."
asked, but there is nevertheless a centrally important difference What is left to work from? Only those goals that are unsupported
between the two cases. by norms, taken at their face values, and, presumably, also those

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 21


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
others that derive only some of their weight from norms, should do anything he can to get me to do this - otherwise we
appropriately discounted. Isolating the normatively derived are behaving irrationally, you see. These two theories (and the
from the remainder will often be difficult in practice, even if a many failed attempts to fix them without introducing substan-
theoretical distinction is always available. But, disregarding tive values) should be left in the dustbin of the history of
those problems, the following is a simple case of the method at philosophy and economics. Surely they should not be resur-
work. rected to a new career in psychology. For even if they were
Suppose you are a prospective teenage suicide. You know this correct, they are still not what people believe human well-being
thought is imprudent. You also know your life would get better or benevolence consist in, and thus they will not be reflected in
later and give you all sorts of new goals and new reasons for people's practical reasoning or in the norms people endorse -
living. But you have none of these goals and reasons now, and not the latter being the data from which Baron hopes to abstract
even the goal of acquiring future goals. You are now moved norms.
strongly by only one goal, suicide. So on Baron's method, that is One last point. Why can't even respecting rights count as a
what you should do. Next, suppose also that I am someone goal in a consequentialist system, as Sen (1982) suggests? To
disinterestedly concerned with your welfare. I might think I show such goals to be mistaken, some more substantively
should try to give you new goals and reasons for living, and, normative criticism than that allowed by Baron's instrumentally
minimally, that I should advise you strongly that you really justified norms or prescriptions based on other goals would be
ought to consider the future in a way that will give you the goal of needed - if we are not to beg the question by playing favorites
living. But, according to Baron, in reasoning that seems to between goals. (And is instrumental rationality itself to be
transfer completely from his case of vaccination, "I have no justified instrumentally by its consequences?) Neither will a
reason, altruistic or selfish, to endorse a norm that leads you to merely descriptive account of the evolution of a goal suffice to
have such a goal if you do not already have it, for it will not help discredit it, as Sidgwick (1907, Book 1, Ch. 4), best ofconse-
you achieve your goals, or mine. Yours, because you have no quentialists, observed. There seems to be no general way to
strong goals other than suicide at this time. Mine, because I am attack particular substantive norms without having others.
completely disinterested - perhaps because I am in the same
situation myself. In that case, we ought to help each other
commit suicide, even if we know we could talk each other out of
it and live happily ever after. This does not count, because it is
not a goal either of us has now. And similarly, if we were two well- Jonathan Baron, consequentialism and error
informed drug addicts who could help each other out of our theory
addictions, we should not, even if we think we should, so long as
we want the drugs more. Sanford S. Levy
When we "put aside the norms we already have" we do worse. Department of History and Philosophy, Montana State University,
That is sufficient reason for rejecting Baron's strategy of holding Bozeman, MT 59717
Electronic mail: 2pi7001%msu.dnet.@mtsu.nix1
our present desires immune from criticism when we know
better. Is this begging the question? No more than Baron's Baron is concerned with "error theory" in respect to moral
privileging of our "nonnormative" goals. A better method would belief: the explanation of why people make the errors that they
be to move back and forth between the different levels of our do. This is of interest for several reasons. For example, it can cast
goals and norms and, unless we are very wise, to take as models doubt on previously accepted beliefs by showing that they were
the value beliefs and practical reasoning of those we think wise - formed by unreliable mechanisms.
as people naturally do from an early age, in much the way we Baron is a consequentialist. Consequentialist concern with
acquire and change our factual beliefs and epistemic norms. error theory goes back to Bentham and Mill, who cast doubt on
Although this method is vague, it is at least not wildly wrong. deontological intuitions that conflict with utilitarianism by argu-
How could consequentialism, which tells us to try to do our ing that they had an epistemologically suspect origin in our
best to make things better, tell us to make things less good "sympathies and antipathies." Baron also argues that deon-
through our suicide, than we know they would have been had we tological intuitions have faulty origins. He believes they arise
lived? The problem here is not with consequentialism as I from overgeneralization of rules that are consistent with conse-
formulated it (more standardly than Baron) but with the theories quentialism in a limited set of cases. Presumably, the error he
of well-being and of rational action that Baron has run together has in mind is the textbook fallacy of "hasty generalization." We
with it. Baron's goal-achievement view of well-being is one that, notice that something is true in some cases, but we form a rule
following Parfit (1984), we may call the actual-unrestricted- more general than our evidence warrants.
desire-fulfillment theory. This theory, formerly fashionable in If this is how deontological beliefs are formed, the process is
economics and philosophy, has been roundly criticized more faulty. But though many intuitive deontological principles can
recently for many reasons that I can no more than hint at here be viewed as overgeneralizations of rules that are consistent
(Bond 1983, especially pp. 40-46; Brandt 1979, Ch. 13; Griffin with consequentialism when applied to a limited set of cases,
1986, pp. 10-17; Katz 1986, especially pp. 41-3; Parfit 1984, this does not mean that these intuitions arise from overgeneral-
pp. 493-98; Scanlon 1993, especially pp. 191-93; Sen ization. Though this is probably how people sometimes come to
1980/1981, especially pp. 198-207; the obvious ways of fixing moral principles, it is not a plausible general account.
the problems run into problems of their own). The upshot,
Consider an example that Baron takes to be typical. A parent,
following Bond, Katz, and Scanlon, is that, except in unimpor-
Rena, might teach her child, Sanford, "Never lie," because she
tant cases, our desires do not ground or justify our actions.
wants Sanford to be liked. But, Baron says, because the rules are
Rather, desires more typically follow upon the value that we
perceive or believe states of affairs have independently of our typically spur-of-the-moment inventions, they are usually
desiring. flawed as means to parents' goals. Because lying sometimes
makes one better liked, teaching "Never lie" as a means to being
To this mistake in value theory Baron adds a rarer one about liked is an overgeneralization.
rationality; that only a person's present goals should be consid- Let us look at this example more closely. Relative to Rena's
ered - not only by the person himself but also by another who goal of having Sanford liked, "Never lie" is too general. But this
aims to benefit him. Thus, to benefit my child I should assist her is not the only goal of many parents when they teach their
suicide in my earlier example and I should also most benefit my children deontological rules. Most also have the goal of raising
6-year-old by buying 20-year futures on real fire engines if that morally upright children and believe that various deontological
assurance for the future is what he most wants now. And he rules are, in fact, correct. Even relative to this goal, parents

22 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary I Raron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

might initially teach overgeneralized rules, because more de- Consequentialism in haste
tailed ones are hard for the young to learn. Usually, however,
parents will ultimately teach all requisite complexities. And
Roger A. McCain
they do this not only because they wish a well-liked child, but
Department of Economics, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104
because they wish an upright child.
Electronic mail: mccainra@dunx1.ocs.drexel.edu
Rena might want Sanford both liked and upright. But even
here, she need not have overgeneralized. She may be aware that Because I tend to agree with Baron that consequentialism is a
relative to the goal of well-liked children, the rule is too general, valid frame for the evaluation of actions and policies and that
nevertheless she may believe that it should be taught for the people often act on confused consequentialist rationales (Mc-
sake of having an upright child. She might view the admittedly Cain 1991a; 1991b; 1992), I would very much like to agree with
partial coincidence between being upright and being liked as his reasoning. However, it seems to me that he is too hasty, and,
just an added, though not unambiguous, reason for teaching the indeed - so far as I understand his argument - has made one
general rule. fallacy offset another.
Thus, it is possible, and probably common, for parents to The fundamental fallacy is the modal1 fallacy of attempting to
teach deontological rules without overgeneralizing with respect deduce "ought" from "is." (I take it that a "prescriptive" theory is
to their goals. If overgeneralization is to be a general explanation one that tells people what they "ought" to do.) Baron's argument
for how deontological beliefs arise, the overgeneralization must here is intuitively persuasive: he says that we should endorse
come elsewhere. One possibility is that, if it is not the parent norms that help us attain our goals, simply because our goals are
who overgeneralizes, it is the child. But again, though children our goals. Therefore, because Adolph Hitler had the goal of
can overgeneralize relative to their goals, this is not a plausible exterminating the Jews, the norm "kill Jews" should be en-
general account of how they come to have deontological dorsed, at least by Hitler. Two things are wrong with this. First,
intuitions. it takes the goals as given, and second (to be valid as a basis for
To see this, assume that Rena believes one should never lie, normative thinking or prescription) it attributes moral propriety
and has the goal of an upright child, and hence has not herself to them. Instead, we should ask ourselves what the proper goals
overgeneralized when she teaches "Never lie." Sanford over- are, and, if our goals are not proper, we should adopt others that
generalizes in learning "Never lie" if he adopts the rule only are. Hitler should not endorse the norm "kill Jews" and should
because he believes it will make him liked. But Sanford can also change his goals.
learn this rule without any overgeneralization. Like Rena, he Here is another difficulty Baron overlooks: there are a num-
might have other goals relative to which "Never lie" is not an ber of well-known cases in which behavior according to a
overgeneralization. For example, he may wish to learn what nonconsequentialist rule gives rise to better consequences than
Rena is trying to teach and to be the sort of person of whom she any explicitly consequentialist rule can. The best known of these
will approve. Relative to these goals, "Never lie" is not an cases is the repeated prisoners' dilemma (e.g. Axelrod 1984;
overgeneralization. Indeed, given these goals, if Sanford McCain 1992, p. 211) but perhaps the most provocative example
learned anything else, he would be in error! is the chain store paradox2 (McCain 1992,pp. 211-12; Selten
Might overgeneralization occurred anywhere else? Perhaps 1978). In these cases, a simple consequentialism is reduced to
even if Rena is not currently overgeneralizing, she may have absurdity.
done so in the past when she first learned the rule "Never lie." Baron states that our only reason for endorsing norms is that
But though errors could have occurred in her past life, her they advance our goals. However, there is a whole family of
situation when she acquired her moral belief was much like that deontological norms to which some people genuinely subscribe
of her own child. Because Sanford can acquire this rule without (McCain 1991a). According to a deontological norm, the right-
overgeneralization, Rena as a child could have done so as well. ness or wrongness of an act is inherent in the act, independent of
Seeking people who could have made the error still earlier the consequences. Thus, contraception is seen as being wrong,
simply sets up a regress where, at each stage, similar points can regardless of the fact that contraception has no bad conse-
be made. If one goes back far enough, it is certain someone quences and may well have good ones. One might disagree with
made the error Baron describes. But as we work back, all sorts of this way of thinking about moral questions, but simply to assert
errors were made, and there is no reason to give priority to that they do not exist is hardly satisfactory (on the rationality of
overgeneralization in our account of how deontological intu- such rules, see McCain 1991a). In particular, it seems likely that
itions arise. many of those who make a moral distinction between active and
In sum, though some people undoubtedly overgeneralize in passive euthanasia do so on the basis of a deontological rule: "It is
the adoption of deontological moral beliefs, this is not a plausible wrong to kill."
general account of how deontological intuitions arise. This does Baron then claims that rules that are deontological in form
not mean these intuitions are not errors - any consequentialist occur because of a fallacy of overgeneralization. Without deny-
such as Baron or me must believe they are. But I do not believe ing that this sort of thing can occur, one might suggest that
they can be reduced to a single kind of reasoning error, such as Baron has committed his own fallacy here: he has over-
overgeneralization. generalized a common, but by no means universal, occurrence.
On the other hand, there is value in seeing our deontological Nevertheless, I would think that Baron's diagnosis is right as
intuitions as overgeneralized versions of consequentialist princi- often as it is wrong. Many rules that appear deontological
ples. For even if no one ever made the error of overgeneraliza- probably do arise by confusion from consequentialist reasoning.
tion Baron describes, it is possible to find a common theme in I have argued that (to be modally sound) a "rationale" must have
the moral principles one accepts and to view this as being what a three-part structure, arguing from a value premise via an
the principles are, in some sense, really trying to get at, though assertion of fact to an imperative conclusion. The assertion of fact
not with perfect accuracy. This Kantian extraction of general is or entails that valued consequences follow from the action (see
moral principles from what Kant calls "the ordinary knowledge Hare [1952/1972] for the roots of this idea in moral philosophy).
of morality" may be a valuable addition to Baron's other argu- Then an action is rational insofar as it is undertaken on the basis
ments for consequentialism. of a valid rationale; in addition, it is moral if the value premise is
a morally valid one. But rationales can fail in various ways, some
worse than others. For example, a deduction of consequences
from an action may not be formally valid but may nevertheless
capture a correlation that is common enough that the deduction
establishes a "defeasible" prima facie case for the conclusion

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 23


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

(Pollock 1986). Thus, rationality is relative, not absolute. Some one that is best on some measure. Ignore problems about the
rationales (for the same decision) may be better than others, measure. Can one think of all persons for all future times?
whereas those may in turn be better than still others. Obviously not. But however many persons and however far into
Moreover, there is good reason to think that people are the future one has considered, one can always think a little
usually imperfectly rational — that is, that the rationales on farther. Is expending the effort to think a little farther always
which they act are inferior (on some tests) to some other sensible? Obviously not. The conclusion, then, is that conse-
rationales on which they might act. For example, people may quentialism makes heuristics inevitable in moral decision-
use rules based on rough correlations when more complex rules, making. One heuristic that obviously emerges is something like
which yield better correlations, are available. The more com- Simon's satisficing (Simon 1982; Slote 1985). But there are surely
plex rules would give rise to actions better suited to the specific many others (Morton 1991). Which ones will pay off on average
cases but they are not known to the decision makers who use the will depend on the temporal range of our averaging, the popula-
simpler rule. All the same, they are "irrational" in a normative tion we average over, their way of life, and their physical
sense. Their actions are inconsistent with their own values, as situation.
their values are expressed in the value premises of the rationales The social contract point of view isolates one objective core to
on which they act. This inconsistency justifies the characteriza- morality: the mutual advantage we gain by cooperating with one
tion of the actions as "irrational." another. But there are limits to this objectivity. If we want to talk
Accordingly - as Baron contends - a normative model can be of mistakes in moral reasoning, we have to think carefully.
supplied to evaluate decisions, and we may hope that with Mistakes for whom faced with what range of situations under
systematic research and education it might be possible to what restrictions on their powers of deliberation?
improve the decisions on which both public policy and private
action are based. But if this research and teaching is based on
Baron's narrow consequentialism, it will fail. However confused
some deontological-like reasoning may be, some of it reflects
clear thought and the deepest value commitments of the people Side effects: Limitations of human rationality
who express it. Teaching that runs contrary to these deep value
commitments will be rejected. The consequences of such teach- Keith Oatley
ing would be regrettable. I conclude that a consistent conse- Centre for Applied Cognitive Science, Ontario Institute for Studies in
quentialism must respect the deontological commitments of Education, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1V6
some of our neighbors (although, so far as I know, there is no Electronic mail: oatley@oise.on.ca
reciprocal duty for deontologists to respect the value commit- By making explicit the idea that we should think in terms of
ments of consequentialists). In this, Baron has failed; and the goals, I believe Baron casts the theory of reasoning into the most
failure is dangerous. productive framework possible. Yet I also believe the analysis
lacks something essential. Consequentialism as stated here is a
NOTES
1. For an introductory discussion of modal logic, see Chellas (1980); doctrine for gods who are omniscient (with perfect mental
note also Elster (1978). models) and omnipotent (without limitations of resources). Gods
2. Counterterrorism expresses the chain store paradox in a practical are perfectly rational planners of the kind that programmers
context, as does entry deterrence in oligopoly. would like artificial intelligence planners to be in the limited
domains in which they operate.
The shortcomings of perfect rationality as a model of human
cognition were pointed out by Neisser (1963) and Simon (1967). I
deal first with Simon's point. Human mental models are imper-
Does consequentialism pay? fect - we cannot foresee all consequences of actions. Resources
such as time and materials are limited - we cannot control the
Adam Morton
world. Simon argued that the design of any intelligent system
Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TB, United
therefore needs to include priority management, for example,
Kingdom
using interrupts to stop computing toward a goal when some-
Electronic mall: adam.morton@bristol.ac.uk
thing important occurs that was unforeseen.
To study errors in moral reasoning one has to know what is not an Baron does allow for uncertainty. He says that in deciding
error. Baron takes it that a moral norm is correct if it would be in between two political programs we should choose that which is
everyone's interest for it to be universally adhered to. And he best on the whole; it is irrelevant that the other might turn out
takes it that consequentialism passes this test. But it is not better by luck. The implication is that such choices will be
obvious that it does. For example, if you are cleverer than most possible in general and that uncertainty can be consigned to a
people, you might be better off if you were not obliged to tell the residual category, luck. Garfinkel (1967) had a better name, "the
truth, even if it made you less confident that others were not et cetera category," to contain everything we could not think of.
lying. And if you are richer than most, you may be better off if Though I accept the argument of consequentialism as correct
you are not obliged to help others. So you might want to make a in principle, it may not help if the et cetera category is large:
difference between acts and omissions. Baron's picture of ethics consider that in Baron's arguments there are biases toward
is, in effect, that it is what would result from a contract between omission and the status quo. In Baron's experiments on deciding
perfectly rational agents. But recent discussions (for example, whether or not to vaccinate, the problem is presented in terms
Danielson 1991) make it clear that social contracts depend on of a perfect mental model: the only consequences of vaccination
the initial situations of the contractors and the constraints are protection of a child against a 10 in 10,000 chance of dying if
determining which aspects of their situation may affect the vaccination were omitted and a lesser risk of dying from the
contract. It is in fact pretty unlikely that we can talk of the unique vaccine. But this model is not perfect. One unmentioned factor
social contract that would represent a fair and mutually advan- is that as more children in a population are vaccinated the
tageous bargain among an actual group of people. incidence of the disease in other children (including those of
One might suppose that consequentialism was at any rate friends and relatives) decreases because unvaccinated people
sometimes the optimal norm, which would be to everyone's are less likely to be infected. Thus, the vaccination problem
benefit. But there are serious doubts here. Full consequential- described by Baron is oversimplified. More generally, if I were a
ism requires that one consider the consequences over all time subject deciding about vaccination I might think that I did not
and for all people of all the options open to one, and choose the know enough about disablement potentially caused by the

24 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


CommentaryVBaron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

vaccine, or by the procedure, or by mistakes in vaccination Some examples of nonconsequentialist


clinics. Events in the history of side effects might come to mind: decisions
infection with HIV virus from blood products, the many acci-
dents in nuclear power plants despite confident calculations of
infinitesimal risks. A bias toward omission might be a good Gerald M. Phillips
heuristic because the status quo is better known. People in Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, Pennsylvania State
Baron's study who chose vaccination only when it meant reduc- University, State College, PA 16801
ing risk by at least half may not have been irrational. Perhaps Electronic mail: gmp@psuvm.psu.edu
they allowed for an et cetera factor. In his abstract, Baron defined consequentialism using the word
Science provides us with mental models, but we admit they "should' as a cohortative showing moral obligation (see Random
are incomplete: scientific theories are corrigible. We now recog- House Dictionary, p. 1771) and asks us to endorse consequen-
nize that several technical benefits have been accompanied by tialism as a standard of decision making. The purpose of this
bad side effects that were largely unforeseen - world population commentary is to point to two cases of decision making where
increase is driven by medical technology, global warming may this standard would be impossible or undesirable. Baron be-
be caused by burning fossil fuels, ozone depletion is caused by lieves that we should "make decisions based on our judgments
refrigerants. Norms of the kind in which Baron is interested can about their consequences for achieving our goals." Presumably,
be generated by allowing for unexpected side effects: we should goal-directed thinking is superior to any of its alternatives.
make large changes carefully, a little at a time. John Dewey (1919) described the standard process of decision
Another factor in decision making was pointed out by Neisser making in problem solving to consist of five steps, which,
(1963): human action often has several goals. Consider hiring incidentally, he did not offer as moral directives:
someone. Two goals might be: best for the job, and member of 1. Feeling that a difficulty or problem exists.
an ethnic minority. These goals might be satisfied by the same 2. Definition of the problem.
person - or they might not. This again shows the impossibility 3. Setting goals for a solution.
for some decisions to be perfectly rational. Such problems are 4. Surveying solutions and weighing them against the goals.
often handled by trying to assess all goals on a single metric, and 5. Selecting a solution and putting it into operation; testing
Baron refers to ranking outcomes as better or worse. In indus- the outcomes against the goals.
trialized societies, the universal metric is money - it is no McBurney (1935) adapted Dewey's description into a set of
accident that we find it in many of Baron's studies. But incom- rules for problem solving in groups. Subsequently, they have
mensurable goals cannot be ranked on the same scale, hence been institutionalized into a "standard agenda for decision
there is no rational way of choosing among certain outcomes. making" (Phillips 1966). There have been several studies (cf.
And, as De Sousa (1987) points out, even if we construct bibliography to Gouran et al. 1993) to adjudicate whether
schemes for ranking goals, there is no rational way of choosing agenda-based discussion generated "better" decisions than dis-
among them. For instance, we could not know in general cussion guided by other motives, including those advocated by
whether it is best to minimize losses or to maximize gains, or to Baron himself. All of those studies were flawed, however, in
mix both strategies. being hypothetical. There are few case histories in which deci-
Another problem of human action that limits rationality arises sion making is actually explored and evaluated.
from many of our goals being achievable only by cooperating The problem with consequentialism is that it presumes (1)
with others (Oatley 1992). In joint plans, people can generally be that people have goals, (2) that they are aware of them, (3) that
relied on, but because others as well as ourselves are subject to they are able to use them consciously to direct the decision-
errors, misunderstandings, and limitations, an extra layer of making process, and (4) that if they do have goals, the outcomes
uncertainty is added. With conflict rather than cooperation, the will be better than if they do not. There is the latent assumption
problem gets worse. that the mere fact of having a goal is ipso facto virtuous, however
In the Western history of ideas it has generally been thought immoral or pointless the goal might be. It also presumes that the
that ethics and rationality are the province of philosophy. But, as goal is not the process. Later, I offer two examples, one of
Nussbaum (1986) has pointed out, there is a parallel literature in decision making where the goal is the process; the other where
which the same problems are handled differently. This is the the goal is obvious but undesirable. Baron's foundation, like
literature starting with the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sopho- McBurney s before him, has two fatal flaws. It implies, first, that
cles, and continuing in the modem novel. Here the emphasis is all goals are virtuous, and second, that solutions arising from
on how the effects of human action cannot be fully calculated kairos (inspiration) can be effective.
(e.g., Oedipus Rex), and how the goals of different people even Central to Baron's formulation is the notion of decision rules.
in an ostensibly cooperative relationship cannot always be rec- He notes that "people have deep commitments to their deci-
onciled (e.g., Antigone). Such literature allows us to explore sion rules, and they own these commitments." The same
vital issues beyond the horizon of human calculation. holds true for those committed to an "agenda" in its various
Baron's arguments for consequentialism are restricted in their forms.
present form because they do not seem to apply to decision Young's (1993) study, however, concluded that training in
making in the real world where there are limitations of knowl- goal-centered decision-making techniques does not necessarily
edge and other resources, multiple goals, cooperation, and result in higher quality decisions, nor does it appear to affect the
Conflict with other people. In addition to norms such as those scores on the Test of Critical Thinking Ability (Johnson 1943).
Baron proposes, understanding how rationality might be ap- Young, adjudicating the results, noted that people often come to
proached needs heuristics, and studies to show how well such "correct" (practical, productive, virtuous) conclusions by various
heuristics do in different settings. As Kierkegaard (1938) put it in means, including rational agenda-following, noetic insight, trial
a journal entry in 1843: "It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, and error, or fiat. In fact, the "phase" of the Deweyian process
that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the most frequently omitted was "goal-setting." Furthermore, she
other proposition, that it must be lived forwards." concluded that people could follow a goal-seeking pattern rig-
idly and still arrive at defective (nonproductive, immoral) con-
clusions. It is reasonable to hypothesize that (1) people often do
not have goals; (2) if they do, they may not be aware of them and
(3) even if they are aware of them, they do not become conscious
factors in decision making.
According to my experience after 44 years of teaching deci-

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 25


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
sion making in the classroom, the typical student finds it difficult considerably different from those of the first, facing the person
to grasp the concept of "goal" and often cannot distinguish with another "khulyages" dilemma. Medical decision making
between a goal and a solution. Teaching goal setting is the most often appears rational because it follows a logical process (Weed
difficult aspect of teaching decision making. Baron cites altruism 1991); to the ultimate decision maker, however, there is no
and self-interest as the sources of goals and includes keeping the rationality because virtually all available choices are unac-
status quo, compensation, punishment/deterrence, resistance, ceptable.
and fairness as bases for nonconsequentialist thinking. These two examples illustrate situations where consequen-
I would offer two other possible reasons for deviation from the tialism, as defined by Baron, does not seem to apply. There may
consequentialist premise. First would be the requirement to be goals implicit in each of the preceding circumstances, but
adhere to a decision-making system in which decision makers, they are goals that cannot be acknowledged by the decision
having no stake in the outcome, confuse following a formal maker.
agenda with a goal and evaluate their success by their adherence This raises the possibility that even in cases clearly within the
to the agenda. Second would be a case in which a decision maker boundaries of consequentialism, the assumption that decision
is confronted with alternatives that have no possible desirable makers will (1) have goals, (2) know what their goals are, and (3)
outcome but where a decision must be made anyway. We should take those goals into account consciously during decision mak-
take note here that Freud's premise that there is no behavior ing, clearly begs the question.
that is not goal-directed (1961) leads to the generalization that
individuals and groups who are engaged in problem solving have
goals whether they are aware of them or not. Furthermore, in
the case of group problem solving, in any case, the group goal
can conflict with individual goals. A "should" too many
Agenda as goal, PERT/CPM (Federal Electric Corporation
1963) is a management decision-making device that requires the Paul M. Pietroski
decision makers to accept an outcome mandated by a higher Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
authority and not necessarily known to the decision makers. The H3A2T7
Electronic mall: paul@philo.mcgill.ca
decision makers are to plan to achieve the outcome through a
program of steps that adhere to the "system." Because the Because the many senses of "should" are (somehow) related, it is
decision makers have no say in specifying the outcome, their easy to vacillate between different normative claims. I think
personal attitudes are irrelevant. And because their job perfor- Baron has done this, leaving his model without any clear theo-
mance is evaluated on whether their plan achieves the outcome, retical function.
their only choice is to "go by the book." An example of what can Many normative claims are instrumental - "you should use
happen in such a model can be found in the story of glitches salt to remove wine stains." Often, these are elliptical for claims
encountered in the assembly of the Polaris missile in the late about desires - you should use salt if you want to remove the
1950s (Phillips 1966). stain. But desires can conflict. You may want the salt for the
No goal Is acceptable. The dilemma of facing two unaccept- soup. So we often use "should" in the following "pragmatic"
able choices, referred to as "khulyages" by Phillips (New York sense: agents should make those decisions that, all things
Times, 1969), may be illustrated by arriving at a cafeteria and considered, they think will satisfy their desires on the whole.
discovering that the only dinner choices are tuna casserole and Agents typically do what they should in this sense. But whereas
corn fritters. On a more serious note, most medical decisions fall the normative thesis is tautologous on the pragmatic reading of
into the khulyages model. A person with blocked coronary "should," it is implausible on other - for example, moral -
arteries is often faced with a decision based on the following readings. Baron holds that agents should make those choices
premises (alternatives drawn from Hurst 1990): In every case, to that, all things considered, they expect to maximize goal
achieve an outcome, drastic life-style modifications including no achievement. But they are to consider goal achievement across
smoking, change in diet, lipid management, and stress reduc- individuals. So the same set of desires - perhaps with agents
tion must be undertaken: (1) Percutaneous coronary angioplasty giving their own desires special weight - provides the standard
is a relatively noninvasive way of opening blocked arteries, but for how all agents should (in Barons sense) decide. The descrip-
almost 10% of such procedures result in emergency coronary tive version of this claim is not obvious. And as a moral thesis,
artery bypass and roughly 40% of such procedures fail in about a Baron's consequentialism would be a crude version of utilitari-
year, requiring another decision. (2) Coronary artery bypass anism that faces familiar objections (see Brink [1989] for discus-
graft (CABG) is an invasive procedure involving considerable sion and a more plausible utilitarianism).
risk and pain with a manifest morbidity and mortality rate. I make these mundane points to avoid interpretations that
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the outcome would be render Barons thesis tautologous or crude. But the attractions of
superior to medical treatment, except in the particular case of his model may result from the slogan, "Decisions should maxi-
proximal left main occlusion, in which CABG is the only life- mize the good." Given the pragmatic sense of "should" and
saving alternative. (3) Living with limitations in life style is letting the good be that which a given agent desires, this slogan
required and symptoms are managed by drugs, all of which have is trivial. Given a moral sense of "should," there nwy be a sense
unpleasant side effects. (4) Doing nothing virtually guarantees of "good" that preserves the slogan. But Baron has defined
progression to a terminal state (unless there is some sort of another sense of "good," and thus "should." The suggestion that
divine intervention, a circumstance not noted in most text- talk of such normativity is illuminating might be understood by
books). taking the term "model" seriously. For there is a "should" of
One might argue that the patient chooses the lesser of the idealization.
evils. The problem, however, is that quality of outcome can In applying the ideal gas law, we ignore certain facts about
never be assessed in advance, because it is impossible to molecules - that they take up space (thus decreasing the
engineer a case comparison with an "n" = 1. Once the decision is container's volume) and have charge (and thus attract one
made and executed, the status of the patient is forever altered, another, decreasing the pressure on the container). And we
and any further remedies depend on the altered state and have speak of actual gas samples "deviating from the ideal." The
no relevance to the original state in which the decision was charge of a body also counts as "interference" when applying the
made. For example, a person may have a failed bypass and then law of gravity (together with F = MA). But when applying
go on medical treatment and then be offered a "chance" for Coulomb's Law, charge is what matters; and gravitational forces
another bypass. The circumstances of the second bypass are can be said to "distort" electromagnetic fields. Roughly put,

26 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

given the generalization, "Other things being equal, if A then B, sought to accommodate central elements of commonsense mo-
"B should (in this sense) occur ifA does. I suspect that something rality - rights, deserts, personal prerogatives, and so on - to
like this grounds (legitimate) talk of competence/performance increase their theory's intuitive acceptability (notable excep-
distinctions, and "mistaken inferences" in cases of visual il- tions are Kagan 1989; Singer 1972).
lusion. Baron enters into this dialectic with an important though still
So perhaps Baron is offering a competence model, according developing point: at least some of the distinctively nonconse-
to which agents reason consequentially, other things being quentialist features of commonsense morality may be attribut-
equal. If I can preserve one life or five, other things being equal, able to cognitive heuristics and biases that are familiar from a
I will indeed preserve five. And some nonconsequentialist wide range of nonmoral judgments where few would be pre-
commitments (e.g., caring about act/omission distinctions) may pared systematically to defend them. This opens up the possi-
well result from overgeneralization. But Baron provides no bility of questioning on principled grounds whether consequen-
evidence for holding that our decision-making competence is tialism is to be criticized or congratulated for failing to capture
monoprincipled. It seems that, other things being equal, I will certain aspects of moral common sense. We might adapt this
not knowingly violate another person's rights. Saying how point for somewhat wider purposes by saying that recent work in
agents balance such commitments is hard. To take a much cognitive psychology bears on ethics in a number of ways.
discussed example, it seems (1) permissible to divert a runaway Heuristics, framing effects, and so forth lead not only to noncon-
trolley from a track occupied by five people onto a track occu- sequentialist reasoning but also to poor consequentialist reason-
pied by one, but (2) impermissible to remove someone's organs ing. "Accommodationist' consequentialist defenses of a failing-
to save five needy patients (for discussion see Thomson 1990). to-help/actively harming distinction, for example, often place
The latter belief is "nonideal" given the consequentialist gener- much greater weight on (salient) "out of pocket" costs than on
alization; and given the rights generalization, the former belief (less salient) opportunity costs.
is "distorted." A model that rejected all consequentialist reason- To what extent is commonplace morality nonconsequential-
ing as overgeneralization would be implausible: caring about ist? Baron seems to conclude that nonconsequentialist thinking
consequences seems to be a deep part of our decision-making is involved when his subjects appeal to considerations of fairness
competence. But just as physicists allow for mass and change, or rights to explain why they would, for example, vote against a
psychologists can go beyond "rabid-rights" and "rabid- particular law that they also admit would do more good than
consequentialist" models. (In Pietroski [1993], I discuss ideali- harm. He notes that few, if any, attempt to give any distinctively
zation and its relevance for moral reasoning at length.) consequentialist arguments at this point, such as appeals to
We might reject the beliefs delivered - even under ideal precedent effects. Yet my experience as a teacher of introduc-
conditions - by a given competence. Our "snap judgments" tory ethics suggests that even theoretically naive individuals
about probabilities may provide examples; although I do not see often appeal to (broadly) consequentialist considerations when
how such "external" standards could be justified without appeals asked what rights there are, how to set a standard of fairness, or
to reflective equilibrium. Of course, given Baron's model, non- why fairness and rights matter. Thus, students who express firm
consequentialist arguments are "fallacious" (in his nontechnical support for Locke's doctrine of natural property rights also
sense). But given an alternative model - such as Rawls (1971) - typically seize on "invisible hand" arguments that purport to
according to which decisions should maximize (rational) desire show the system of private property and exchange to have the
satisfaction subject to various constraints, some utilitarian argu- best consequences overall. One picture this suggests: common
ments are unsound. So we want (1) evidence for particular sense embraces certain "meta-rules " — "Do not accept rules that
competence models, and (2) justifications for any "competence- violate rights," "Require rules to be fair," and so on - and then
external" standards. But if these are goals, Baron does not offer uses these to assess more specific rules. Thus, a high tax on
an advance over Mill (1861). Moreover, Rawls has a detailed gasoline might be rejected as unfair - despite doing more good
theory, not just a "suggestive" analogy. than harm "by itself." This could simply reflect a higher-order
Finally, it is of practical importance that some decisions application of indirect consequentialist thinking: a polity in
should be made in the idealization, but not pragmatic sense (or which unfair individual rules would be accepted whenever they
vice versa). But the only other sense of "should" relevant to would yield a net benefit might as a polity realize less overall
public policy that I can think of is moral. And again, we do not good in the long run than one in which there was strong
want Baron's consequentialism for our moral theory. It would, resistance to unfair rules. It would perhaps be interesting to test
for example, justify keeping some ignorant and coercing others experimentally whether such consequentialist justifications of
into consequentialism, if that would satisfy our collective goals meta-rules would be widely embraced. (Such a justification is
better than (our current practice of) offering courses that merely distinct from - though it often occurs in the company of- claims
require students to apply consequentialist reasoning; and con- about precedent, for precedent arguments attribute remoter
siderations ofjustice or individual rights would be irrelevant. So effects to particular rules, purportedly showing that a particular
I am left wondering what Baron takes the point of his normative rule is not, on balance, beneficial after all.)
model to be, and what kind of norm he has in mind. As someone of consequentialist leanings, I welcome Baron's
research. I would urge, however, that he see his contribution to
moral theory as depending on less controversial assumptions.
Three examples follow.
First, he might want to reconsider his objections to Rawlsian
Broadening the base for bringing cognitive methods. It is customary to distinguish wide and narrow Rawls-
psychology to bear on ethics ian reflective equilibrium, as in Daniels (1979). Baron properly
views narrow reflective equilibrium - "systematizing] intu-
Peter Railton itions into a coherent theory" - as incomplete. But in wide
Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Ml 48109 reflective equilibrium we expose our moral judgments not only
Electronic mail: peter— railton(3mm.cc.umich.edu to other moral judgments and principles but to broader coher-
Consequentialism has always had a somewhat uneasy relation ence tests in which we invoke other norms (e.g., epistemic
with commonsense morality. Impressed with the role of igno- norms), going empirical theories (e.g., psychology), and what-
rance, prejudice, power, and privilege in shaping actual social ever insights philosophical investigation might afford us (e.g.,
norms and institutions, the first consequentialists - utilitarians - into the nature of persons). It seems to me that one could recast
were led to advocate significant reform of commonsense theory Baron's argument as being for a potentially very plausible piece
and practice. By contrast, modern consequentialists have often of wide reflective equilibrium: given what we can now see about

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 27


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

the psychological mechanisms (according to our going empirical between two bets? Rational economic theory would dictate
theory) underlying certain judgments, we are less inclined maximizing the subjective utility of wealth as the only relevant
(given prevailing epistemic norms) to take these judgments at goal. Thus, the gamble that will yield higher expected gain
face value, and more inclined to subject them, and moral should be preferred. Nevertheless, one can conceive of other
opinions that depend more or less directly upon them, to critical goals, such as psychological "well-being" that may also pertain to
(philosophical) scrutiny. this choice. If goals such as "increasing satisfaction" or "minimiz-
Second, Baron may wish to build from a broader normative ing regret" are allowed, the best consequences may be achieved
base because it is doubtful whether his claim that "our goals give by choosing the "safer" alternative rather than the one with the
us reason to endorse consequentialism as a standard of decision "higher expected gain." Indeed, research shows that subjects
making" can be fully sustained. Early on, he claims to restrict his often prefer the safer bet over the one with higher expected
discussion to examples where the "appropriate balance of goals value. This preference may reverse when the bets are evaluated
of self versus others . . . does not arise," but this leaves a reduced separately in a pricing task or even compared to each other in a
domain for ethics, and within a few pages he is discussing matching task (Slovic & Lichtenstein 1983; Tversky et al. 1988).
"omission and status-quo bias," which, given the uneven state of Preference reversals of this kind are a paramount example of the
the status quo, may reflect strong conflicts of self versus others. distinction between evaluating consequences as judged in mak-
Baron himself mentions as examples "failure to consider aiding ing a decision and in the absence of a decision. However, they
the world's poor" and leading "lives of leisure" when we are could also raise the question whether the very goals one con-
capable of doing more for others. siders, or should consider, depend on whether a decision has to
be made.
Third, Baron advances a very strong thesis, one roughly to the
effect that all legitimate critical reflection on norms must be If people's emotions are weighed in evaluating consequences
consequentialist: "we should endorse norms that help us achieve then it becomes relevant to compare their feelings as they
our goals . . . because we have no other reasons for endorsing experience the consequences of each alternative. In direct
norms." But a long philosophical tradition, associated with but judgment of emotions following resolution of uncertainty, we
hardly limited to Kantians, suggests that there might be reasons found that acts leading to the worse outcome produced bad
for endorsing norms that are prior to, or that stand on different feelings more than omissions leading to the worse outcome,
ground from, goal achievement. Baron's work remains relevant, regardless of whether the two outcomes were gains or losses,
however, because almost every moral theory - indeed, almost relative to the status quo (Baron & Ritov, in press). Expectations
every theory of practical reasons - gives a crucial role to goals concerning such ex post facto feelings may be taken into account
and their achievement. in evaluating the consequences of acts versus omissions with
respect to the goal of "minimizing regret. " The finding that
judgments about emotion and the advisability of the options
reveal the same pattern of omission bias is compatible with this
hypothesis.
Can goals be uniquely defined?
In the examples I have mentioned so far, the decisions
liana Rltov concerned only the decision maker's self-interest. Thus, the
simple golden rule of choosing the option that is most likely to
Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Ben-Gurion
University, 84105 Be'er Sheva, Israel
achieve the goals of the person whom the decision concerns does
Electronic mail: ritov@vms.bgu.ac.il not solve the problem for those decisions. In fact, the same
argument may be raised with respect to decisions concerning
A coherent comprehensive model serves both to organize exist- others. Even if the decision maker has in mind the best interest
ing knowledge and to spur new research. In behavioral decision of the person the decision concerns, he can still have a complex
making, expected utility theory, a normative model, serves as a idea of what this person's goals are. In the vaccination case
yardstick for actual decisions. Although the validity of expected discussed in the target article it is natural to assume that from
utility as a descriptive model has been largely discredited, the child's perspective, reduced risk of death, no matter how it is
behavioral decision-making research could not have advanced as achieved, will serve the goal of living. Presumably, in comparing
it has without this model. the state, "the child died from the flu" to the state, "the child
Consequentialism, as presented in the target article, is a died from the vaccine," the emotions of the child cannot be
wider, more general principle than expected utility. According taken as a differentiating factor. However, if the disease and the
to this principle, decisions should be based on evaluating ex- vaccine involved risks of some disablement rather than death
pected consequences with respect to goal achievement. For the child might care whether she became disabled from the
example, the goal of "living" would best be served by reducing disease or the vaccine.
the overall risk of death, even if this aim could only be achieved Even the goal of "living" is not as simple as it may appear. In
by introducing some new risk (such as the one associated with the "Asian disease" problem of Tversky and Kahneman (1981),
vaccines). This general normative principle provides an impor- the framing of the goal affected subjects' preference between
tant basis for testing people's decisions on different problems, two given options. When the options were described in terms of
such as the provision of compensation and punishment, and the saving lives, the certainty alternative was preferred. When the
acceptance of social reforms. same options were described in terms of the number of expected
The simple form of consequentialism does not specify con- deaths, the riskier alternative was preferred. A similar framing
straints concerning goals or people's preference ordering among manipulation affected subjects' preference between risk-
states of the world, as reflected in their judgment of conse- reduction options in situations with multiple life-threatening
quences. The general nature of the model, as presented by risks (Ritov et al. 1993). When the options were described using
Baron, has the advantage of providing a single principle applica- the "lives saved" frame, the majority of subjects preferred equal
ble to a wide range of decisions. As a prescriptive model, reduction of all risks over a reduction in a single risk, achieving
however, the version of consequentialism presented in the the same overall reduction. In the "expected deaths" frame,
target article may encounter some difficulties involving the most subjects showed no preference for either of the two
underlying assumption that goals can be unambiguously defined options. Thus, the framing of the goal as "saving lives" or
and that consequences have some absolute and objective value "reducing deaths" affects people's judgment as to which course
vis-a-vis those goals. I will argue that this assumption is not of action yields the best consequences.
straightforward and can be called into question. I do not want to imply that framing effects of the kind
What is the relevant goal one should consider when choosing described here are normatively justifiable. Indeed, changes of

28 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

preference caused solely by the difference in description of the pursue the prevention of harm and the promotion of benefits,
very same options are clear manifestations of nonnormative however these are distributed (and whatever rights are overrid-
behavior. However, these findings raise some questions as to the den, etc.); or perhaps to pursue instead some trade-off of benefit
prescriptive value of a simple form of consequentialism. It may and fairness, and so forth, a trade-off that sometimes might call
be necessary to develop a more constrained version of the model for resisting that which promotes the most benefit. Preventing
if it is to fulfill its prescriptive purpose. harm and promoting benefit is the old utilitarian goal, and we
can not appeal to that here. Whether a norm would advance that
goal can not be made decisive for us, for that would beg the
question of what goals we should have - what norms we should
follow.
Goals, values and benefits This leads to a final comment. The studies Baron cites do not
Frederic Schick prove what they claim. They show that people's norms and
decisions are often not utilitarian, that people often govern
Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903
themselves by nonutilitarian norms. They do not establish that
Baron reports studies of decision making that testify to a neglect people's choices are ever nonconsequentialist. Utilitarianism
of the consequences, and he proposes an explanation. He holds calls for choosing whatever results in the biggest aggregate
that decisions are "nonconsequentialist" when people misapply benefit. Consequentialism calls for choosing so that we get the
goal-seeking norms. The goals being sought are believed by best results - best in our own valuation, whatever that may be -
these people to promote some more basic goals, but that and this allows for many choices a utilitarian has to reject. (I
connection then fails. I think too much can be made of this. The expand on the open-endedness of consequentialism in Schick
goals people have are rarely connected in this purposive way, 1991, pp. 121-45.) Utilitarianism is not a logic. It is a theory of
and 1 doubt they are so connected in all the cases to which Baron value, a special additive ethic: it tells us to go by benefit sums.
refers. Why should people with different ethics be said to be thinking
Take his discussion of resistance to a coerced, uneven reform: carelessly? Or rather, why should anyone who is not a utilitarian
people sometimes resist because they care about fairness or fault how these people think?
because they take the coercion to be a violation of rights. Baron
considers this "nonconsequential" because, by assumption, it
opposes reform: people would be better off, though some better
off than others. But on whose evaluation? Those who have a goal
of fairness may rate an outcome of unfairness low, and those who What goals are to count?
care about rights may set a low value on an outcome of a rights
violation. Coals, after all, according to Baron, are "criteria by Mark D. Spranca
which people evaluate states of affairs." Department of Psychology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley,
CA 94720
Baron assumes that the goals of fairness and rights are purpos-
Electronic mail: spranca@garnet.berkeley.edu
ive only, that people care about fairness and rights because they
think (in the present case, falsely) that they serve the general Jonathan Baron addresses a set of issues of immense importance
welfare, this being the ultimate goal here. He holds that none to philosophers, psychologists, economists, educators, parents,
but ultimate goals function as standards of value. Still, he offers and policy makers. How should people make decisions? How do
no grounds for supposing that fairness and rights are purposive people make decisions? And what should be done about depar-
only. Judging informally, by what people say, fairness and rights tures from normativity? Having read Baron's two books on these
goals are often ultimate, and philosophers who consider them topics, which I highly recommend to the reader wanting a more
ultimate find a large, approving public. (On fairness as ultimate, complete treatment, I think he presents a strong case for the
see Rawls 1971; on rights as ultimate, see Dworkin 1977; Nozick appropriateness of consequentialism as a normative benchmark
1974.) and the occurrence of nonconsequentialist decisions (Baron
This is also true of the other issues addressed. On punish- 1988a; 1993a). I would, however, like to raise a few concerns
ment: Why suppose that retribution is meant to be serving about his normative theory and point out a few of its understated
deterrence, that, for most people, a goal of retribution is strengths.
purposive rather than ultimate? Baron says only that it could be Does consequentialism have anything to say about what goals
purposive, but this alone does not warrant the judgment that, one should have? This is a difficult but crucial issue for Baron's
when it is not deterrent, retribution is foolish. On active eutha- theory to address. If consequentialism respects individual dif-
nasia: Why suppose that opposing this is a misguided harm- ferences in goals, it would seem to prescribe and laud actions as
prevention, that people oppose it because they believe that different as Hitler's and Mother Theresa's. If, on the other hand,
killing causes harm? Why assume that preventing harm is their it allows only certain goals, it would seem to change the focus of
ultimate goal here? Most people have more specific values. the theory from rationality to morality. (Perhaps Baron can
They are opposed to mercy killing because it is a killing. discuss whether he is offering a theory of morality or rationality
Baron goes beyond the point about some goals being purpos- [or both] in the course of answering this question.) Whichever
ive only and not connecting with their purposes. He suggests, claim Baron is making seems to be unsatisfactory. The first trou-
more broadly, that goals and norms sometimes fail to be rational. bles anyone for obvious reasons. The second seems to require
What norms we should follow - what goals we should have - Baron to specify what goals people should and should not have, a
must go by the consequences. Baron notes that this can be liberty most people would be unwilling to relinquish.
tricky. We cannot judge the norms we might follow by whether There is a possible way out of this dilemma. Trying to achieve
our following them would advance our goals; that would be a goal affects the achievement both of one's own other goals and
begging the question. Our goals (and norms) must be set aside, of other people's goals. Goals can be analyzed and evaluated in
and we must reason in terms of what is left. But with our goals set terms of their consequences for the achievement of these other
aside, how could we reason at all? On what basis could we then goals. Goals are disallowed (by consequentialism) to the extent
say how good or bad the consequences are? that they prevent more than they promote individual and
There is no neutral ground. Baron refers to preventing acci- collective goal achievement. Compared to moral goals, immoral
dents, lowering the death rate, diminishing costs - to ways of goals probably fare poorly because they interfere with the goals
preventing harm and of promoting benefits. But this still begs of other people and often lead to negative outcomes for the actor
the question. We are asking what norms to follow; whether to (e.g., guilt, embarrassment, punishment).

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 29


Commentary/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
Baron would like to remedy the nonconsequentialist thinking negatively as "calculating" or "opportunistic" (the end justifies
he describes. I would, too, but I am concerned that we presently the means).
lack knowledge of which errors are worth correcting and which I am not completely happy with the concept of consequential-
are not. (For a fuller discussion of normative and descriptive ism because of the inherent ambiguity of the term. On one hand,
considerations bearing on the interpretation of departures from it is used to characterize an almost unassailable position,
normativity, see Spranca 1993.) In deciding which new thinking namely, that one should prefer acts (or nonactions) successfully
strategies to teach students and children, two general kinds of matching the states one wants to maintain, develop, or achieve,
errors are possible: we can worsen thinking or fail to improve it. above those having less successful consequences. So, for exam-
To maximize the ratio of good (correcting the errors worth ple, it would be better to spend my money now than to invest it if
correcting and not correcting those not worth correcting) to bad I honestly value present enjoyment over future savings. Per-
teaching decisions requires a long and careful program of re- haps, in this sense, we should speak of the functions of an action
search devoted to measuring the consequences of learning and rather than its consequences.
using various thinking strategies. Baron acknowledges the risks On the other hand, the term "consequences" seems to point
of educational reform but is quick to point out that not reforming to the future rather than the present (or past) as the proper
has consequences as well. Baron seems to be advocating cau- yardstick for evaluating decisions. This is also in line with most
tious change. What I would like to see before any changes are examples given in Baron's article. But today's future is tomor-
made are large-scale experiments in the schools manipulating row's present (and next week's past), making a consistent futur-
the thinking strategies taught and measuring the time, effort, ism logically untenable unless we are to engage in a never-
and money to learn and use them and also the consequences of ending regress (or should we rather say progress?) of means
using them for goal achievement. That way a reform is more justifying means justifying means.
likely to succeed and social scientists are less likely to jeopardize The issue is further complicated by a failure to distinguish
their future status and funding (by having promoted a misguided between future goals and future effects (e.g., unintended side
reform). effects and long-term effects of a particular action). Baron de-
Having stated some concerns I consider important, I would fines goals as "criteria by which people evaluate states of affairs."
like to close with two points. First, I think Baron's concise This definition is too wide; I think it is more fruitful to limit the
statement and defense of consequentialism is much more so- goal concept to states of affairs people actively strive for, that is,
phisticated and comprehensive than a first reading would sug- those that explicitly motivate their actions. But then we very
gest. I think the concerns I have raised and those I expect to read often discover that the attained goal state is not necessarily as
from other commentators are addressed or addressable by blissful as it was supposed to be, or that other, nonintended
Baron's formulation of consequentialism. I expect that Baron's effects prevent us from enjoying it fully. A common source of
reply will make this obvious as his latest book (1993a) certainly "irrational" decisions is precisely this preference for acts that
does. Although I see this as a strength, Baron might want to seem to bring us closer to a goal, with too little regard for other,
respond to those who are wary of a theory seemingly immune to foreseeable (but not targeted) effects; like the proverbial doctor
attack. And he might want to put this in the context of a who tried to cure a fever, with eventual success, but killed the
discussion of the criteria by which normative theories should be patient in the process.
evaluated. My suggestion then, is to make the concept of consequential-
Second, Baron sets an important example when he justifies ism more fruitful by distinguishing its logical and psychological
his normative theory in terms of goal achievement. In seeking a aspects, and as a first approximation, distinguishing the ex-
justification, I think Baron correctly asks what the purpose of a pected function of an act (as fulfilling one's past, present, and
normative theory is. Although some may disagree that its future), its goals, and its foreseeable effects.
purpose is to achieve the goals of people, it is clearly not to reach Baron's prime example of nonconsequentialist thinking is the
consensus or to be consistent with intuition. Yet readers are omission/commission asymmetry. When otherwise compara-
often given no other reason to accept a normative theory. Baron ble, such as when leading to similar outcomes, nonactions are
moves the validation of normative theories in the right judged more leniently than actions. The problem is that they
direction. rarely are comparable. For one thing (not discussed in the target
article) commissions usually take place at a definite point in
time, whereas omissions are more difficult to pinpoint. I can
regret not having vaccinated my child, but should I regret not
Actions, inactions and the temporal having done it this week, or the week before, or last month?
Obviously, there is a diffusion of responsibility at work, not over
dimension people but over time, leaving the nonactor essentially blameless
on any particular date. Now blame, as well as credit, are
Karl Halvor Teigen obviously factors that the sophisticated consequentialist should
Department of Psychology, University of Tromso, 9037 Tromse, Norway take into account. The circularity is apparent: if unsuccessful
Electronic mail: kahht@psyk.uit.no
omissions give rise to less blame, by self and others, than equally
There is more to actions (as well as inactions) than meets the eye. unsuccessful commissions, then by definition, the omission is
They are undertaken, more or less successfully, because they not equally unsuccessful after all.
are believed to fit somehow into a bigger scheme of things. They It is interesting that most discussions of the omission/
may match my past, my present, and my future. commission asymmetry are concerned with failures. What about
Acts matching a person's present state are sometimes referred successes? People are credited and congratulated for their
to as "spontaneous," "emotional," or "intrinsically motivated." actions, but how often are they so rewarded for their timely
Sometimes they are criticized for being shortsighted or irre- nonactions? Some of us may remember occasions on which we
sponsible and other times they are hailed for being more were thanked for keeping our mouths shut, but only after
"authentic" than actions performed routinely or with an eye on opening them several times before closing them again; more-
the outcome. over, these are not necessarily the proudest moments in our
Acts matching a person's past have similarly been evaluated lives.
positively as "principled" and "consistent," or negatively (as in Again, one of the reasons for this possible asymmetry con-
the target article), evidencing a "status-quo bias." cerns time. A laudable inaction can rarely be rushed. Marital
Finally, actions designed to match an imagined future can be fidelity, the nondisclosure of secrets, incorruptibility, nonsmok-
described positively as "goal-directed' and "instrumental," or ing, and similar feats of abstinence are virtues that take time to

30 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Commentary /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
unfold to their advantage, and will, as a consequence, not always sion versus commission is a by-product of cognitive bias (and
reap their rewards fully in this life (but, as every true consequen- hence does not count as a legitimate goal for guiding action)?
tialist knows, surely in the hereafter). More generally, when are Baron-style consequentialists content
As a final recommendation, I suggest that the author take with simply helping people choose more effective means for
advantage of this and other commentaries as material for an achieving their goals (no matter how illogical or immoral they
unobtrusive test of the omission bias. How many contain criti- may be) and when do they take on the more ambitious task of
cisms of what he has written (but should not) versus what he has instructing people on the wrong-headedness of the goals them-
omitted to mention (but should have)? And what about the selves? Is a sharp distinction between cognitive means and
distribution of credits? Because I am by now painfully aware of motivational ends viable here?
my own irrationality I will hasten to set the record straight by It should be emphasized that I do not question the empirical
thanking Baron for some successful omissions, such as his not robustness of the finding Baron reports here. Indeed, in my own
being boring, not presenting an endless list of empirical work, work (Tetlock 1992; Tetlock & Boettger 1993), I have asked
not settling all problems beforehand so there is nothing to subjects to role-play Food and Drug Administration regulators
discuss, and not being afraid of drawing a moral, at the risk of whose task is to decide on the admissibility of an anticoagulant
being perceived as a kind of psychological missionary, or omis- drug into the U.S. pharmaceuticals market. When considering a
sionary, as the case may be. drug that is not already on the market (a non-status-quo option),
the drug must save at least twice as many lives as it endangers.
Moreover, this effect is amplified when subjects are under
pressure of accountability and are expected to justify their
decisions to others (here, the necessary ratio of lives saved to
The consequences of taking lives endangered sometimes rises as high as 9 to 1). We also find
consequentialism seriously that accountable subjects confronted by a non-status-quo drug
that will harm some people (although it will benefit many more)
Philip E. Tetlock look for ways to avoid making the decision, such as buck-passing
Institute of Personality and Social Research, 2150 Kittredge, Berkeley, CA (referring the decision to another government agency) and
94720 procrastination (delay the decision until more evidence is at
Electronic mall: ipsr@uclink.berkeley.edu hand). Anticipatory regret and blame avoidance are powerful
Baron advances and defends a deceptively simple normative social-political motives and it seems peculiar for a consequen-
model, which asserts that "the best decisions are those that yield tialist analysis to leave them out.
the best consequences for achieving people's goals. ' Goals are One can also advance consequentialist counterinterpretations
simply the criteria by which people evaluate states of the world for many of the other effects Baron discusses. Consider, for
as more or less satisfactory (e.g., attaining financial security, example, compensation decisions for victims of various misfor-
attracting a mate, ethnic cleansing of a community). Baron tunes. Subjects give more money to victims of train accidents
maintains that "we have reason to be disturbed, prima facie, when the train's unexpected failure to stop in front of a fallen
when we find others making decisions that violate consequen- tree causes the injury than when the suddenness of the stop was
tialism." In this view, we should be disturbed because people the cause. Or subjects give more compensation when they
are choosing alternatives that do not satisfy their goals as believe an injury has been caused by human beings than when
effectively as other alternatives could. they believe it was caused by nature. Baron suspects that such
Baron identifies a variety of findings suggesting that "noncon- effects are
sequentialist thinking exists and matters, even if each example is
an overgeneralization of the desire to punish someone. . . .
subject to one quibble or another." However, in the absence of
This sort of reasoning might account in part for the general lack
an exhaustive list of the goals people are trying to attain in
of concern about the discrepancy between victims of natural
making judgments and choices, it is difficult to say whether
disease, who are rarely compensated (beyond their medical
Baron has conclusively ruled out all viable consequentialist
expenses) and victims of human activity, who are often com-
counterinterpretations and premature to dismiss the counterin-
pensated a great deal, even when little specific deterrence
terpretations as "quibbles." Consider, for example, the intrigu-
results because compensation is paid by liability insurance.
ing work of Ritov and Baron (1990) on vaccination decisions.
They asked subjects to indicate the maximum overall death rate A consequentialist counterinterpretation here would argue: (a)
for vaccinated children at which they would still be willing to large deterrence effects are possible because liability insurance
vaccinate their own children. Subjects were willing to vaccinate rates for all providers (and especially the risky providers) of the
their children when they believed that they had a 10 out of product or service do go up in the real world when large damage
10,000 chance of death from a flu epidemic, that a vaccine could awards are granted; (b) large damage awards serve a value
prevent the flu, and that the vaccine could kill some small expressive function (cf. Kahneman & Knetsch 1993; Katz 1960)
number of children; the mean tolerable risk was about 5 out of and give people the opportunity to wax indignant and express
10,000, half the risk of the illness itself. In effect, subjects were their moral outrage and their moral superiority ("I am the kind of
willing to double the odds of their children dying. The same person who is deeply offended by such conduct and to show you
result holds up .when subjects role-play a policy maker who is how offended I am, I will impose an especially large award").
supposed to decide whether children in general should be We should also examine Baron's work on resistance to coerced
vaccinated. When Baron asked subjects for justifications, they reform. Baron and Jurney (1993) presented subjects with six
often responded that they would be responsible for any deaths proposed reforms (e.g., of TV advertising in political cam-
caused by the vaccine, but they would not be as responsible for paigns, compulsory vaccinations, 100% tax on gasoline); each
deaths caused by failure to vaccinate. I am puzzled by why the would require some government coercion to compel people to
desire to avoid or deflect responsibility for a controversial behave "in a way that would be best for all if everyone behaved
decision does not count as a legitimate goal in a consequentialist that way." Although "most subjects thought that things would be
analysis. Might not subjects have reasoned in consequentialist better on the whole if the reforms were put into effect," many
style that a 5/10,000 increment in the probability of a child's subjects still refused to vote for the reforms. Their objections fell
death is a reasonable price to pay for minimizing anticipatory
into the categories of "fairness, harm, and rights." Baron finds
regret and social censure? Or should the decision analyst try to
that people are reluctant to support reforms that impose concen-
persuade people that the differential regret they (and their
trated costs on small constituencies, reduce personal liberty, or
evaluators) feel from bad consequences stemming from omis-
give a great deal of power to government regulators and agen-

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 31


Response/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
cies. One does not need to be a devout libertarian to wonder Hare (1981). Here, then, I will lump together the criti-
whether the counterarguments that subjects advanced repre- cisms of utilitarianism with those of weaker claims.
sent reasonable political goals that, when carefully factored into
the decision calculus, might lead reasonable people to conclude R1.1. Normative versus prescriptive. Many criticisms re-
that they would not be better off on the whole if the reforms sult from my failure to say enough about a distinction that
were implemented.
In closing, it is worth considering the policy implications of
is really very important, that between normative and
Baron's claim that people frequently make nonconsequentialist prescriptive claims about decision making (Baron 1985;
decisions and that we might all be better off if a wise government 1988a). Normative claims are those that concern the
(not susceptible to certain "cognitive biases") took responsibility ultimate standard by which decisions are evaluated. Pre-
for making those decisions. My view is essentially this: I am still scriptive claims concern the principles that people ought
not persuaded that Baron has successfully eliminated conse- to try to follow. These can differ for many reasons. For
quentialist explanations for the many examples of nonconse- example, surely deciding to commit adultery or to tell a
quentialist thinking he cites (although he has assembled a lie when under oath is sometimes the best decision in
fascinating array of effects). I also believe that there are compel- terms of overall consequences. Yet it is probably best if we
ling political, psychological, and historical reasons for fearing
the consequences of transferring responsibility for many per- endorse and try to follow the rules "Never commit adul-
sonal decisions to the state. The issues here are perennial ones tery" or "Never lie under oath" because, although these
that revolve around the prickly principal-agent problem rules will lead to some errors, people will make more
(grounded in a real-world observation that when principals errors if they try to decide for themselves - often under
delegate responsibility to agents for making decisions, agents conditions of impaired judgment — when the conse-
often try to maximize their own values rather than those of the quences are best.
principals). In short, I judge the psychological claim that "non- Adler, Daniel, Fuller, Heil, and McCain are right to
consequentialist decisions" have been systematically docu- point out that, in the long run, the best consequences
mented to be premature; I judge the resistance to coerced
reform to be not a cognitive bias but a well-justified concern
might result from people following nonconsequentialist
(grounded in historical base rates and public choice analyses of rules rather than attempting to produce the best conse-
principal-agent paradoxes in representative democracies) that quences in each case. It might even yield the best conse-
transferring authority for personal decisions to the state fre- quences for most people not to know that they are doing
quently creates more problems than it solves and can put one on this. Thus, evidence that subjects cannot explicitly follow
the slippery slope to tyranny. a deterrent rationale for punishment is not necessarily
evidence that they are following principles they should
not follow. It is, however, pritna facie evidence of such
error. To restate my argument somewhat, we should not
Author's Response simply assume that all apparent nonconsequentialist prin-
ciples are for the best. Instead, we should seek to under-
stand why they might be for the best. In the case of
adultery or lying under oath, it is easy to see why it is
Normative, descriptive and prescriptive probably better to endorse a blanket rule rather than
responses encouraging people to decide for themselves. In the case
of retribution, it is not so clear; if consequentialist justi-
Jonathan Baron fications of retributive rules begin to sound like self-
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA serving rationales for reflexive vengeance, perhaps that is
19104-6196
Electronic mail: baron@cattell.psych.upenn.edu
because they are. At some point, it may be worthwhile to
teach students that punishment can also be justified by
The target article argued that descriptive (psychological) deterrence.l
accounts of moral judgment are inconsistent with a conse- Likewise, the principle of compensating injuries
quentialist normative model. The commentaries ad- caused by people more than those caused by nature may
dressed the normative model, the experimental results, not be so easy to justify, despite Adler's argument that it is
and their practical (prescriptive) implications. It is gratify- appropriate "if one is designing a general plan for com-
ing to see the philosophers going after the psychology and pensation and knows that only some of the unjustified
vice versa. The answers to many commentaries can only injuries can be compensated." Why not compensate those
be sketched here. I shall refer to Hare (1981), Baron cases for which compensation will help the victim most,
(1993a), and other sources for more detailed discussions. regardless of cause? New Zealand has recently attempted
just this sort of reform, compensating injuries through
R1. Standard criticisms of utilitarianism social insurance rather than through the tort system, and
punishing responsible injurers separately. When such
Several comments contained standard objections to utili- reforms are realistic possibilities, people might do better
tarianism. Although they have been answered before, to think of the more usual strategy (linking compensation
these are worth answering again. In the target article, I to the cause of injury) as one possible solution among
did not try to defend utilitarianism, a form of consequen- many rather than as a fundamental moral principle that
tialism that assumes that total utility is the sum (or need not be understood in terms of its consequences.
average) of utility across individuals. As Railton points Should people know the consequentialist rationale for
out, however, I assumed it at a few points despite my the "deontological" rules that they follow? In some cases,
claims to the contrary, so I will now come out of the closet people may behave better if they blindly obey the rules
and admit that I endorse it. My own defense of it (Baron they are taught. A person who knows that the rule against
1993a) draws heavily on (and assumes the conclusions of) lying is only a means to the best consequences might be

32 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Response /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
too tempted to justify his harmful lying in that way. On the choices between alternative future selves with different
other hand, if nobody understands the consequentialist goals (Baron 1993a, pp. 45-49). Yet much of the problem
rationale, rules may be socially unstable. People will of interpersonal comparison is a matter of accuracy, like
demand some reason for following them other than those that of assessing probabilities and utilities even for a single
provided by the endorsement of authorities (or of intu- individual. The normative-prescriptive distinction makes
ition, which may express only the endorsements of now- the practical difficulties irrelevant. They matter only
forgotten authorities). And if only some people know the prescriptively, and I have not advocated attempting to
justification, then they must bear the cost of maintaining measure probabilities and utilities in most of the cases I
their authority. Arguably, in modern democratic soci- discussed, which concern general principles (such as "do
eties, it is too late to try to withhold from people any no harm") that are brought to bear even after probabilities
justifications of the rules they are taught to follow. It is in and utilities have been measured (e.g., Deber & Goel
this context that we might be disturbed by the finding that 1990). An attack on the utility theory as a normative
many subjects do not seem familiar with the deterrence principle must show that the problem is deeper and more
rationale for punishment. serious than that of assessing the brightness of a light or
Although people may suspect that utilitarians are more the loudness of a sound (also an error-prone process).
inclined to break the rules (against lying, cheating, etc.) Morton and Oatley point to the "inevitability of heuris-
than those who do not see them only as means to the tics" given the practical difficulties of utilitarian calcula-
greater good, we have no evidence for such weakness. In tion. This objection does not apply to the simple conse-
principle, it is possible for utilitarians to follow a rule even quentialist model I defended in the target article, which
while judging that it is better to break it (Railton 1984), for requires no calculation. The simple model, applied liter-
example, out of a lack of trust in their own judgment. We ally, could involve no more than a holistic judgment of
can even believe that our judgment is never to be trusted "which option yields the best consequences on the
in some cases (such as lying under oath or committing acts whole." No analysis into individual utilities, time periods,
of terrorism). Such an attitude is fully compatible with or uncertain states is needed. I believe that this sort of
understanding the consequentialist justification of rules consequentialist heuristic would agree with the conse-
and understanding that, in strange hypothetical cases that quentialist option that many subjects rejected in the
psychologists and philosophers may dream up, it is best to experiments I review.
break the rule (Baron 1988b; Hare 1981, Ch. 3). This At issue is whether heuristics are chosen merely be-
attitude is also compatible with the sort of "integrity" cause they are efficient, maximizing utility because the
discussed by Arkes. utility of the effort they save (over some more complex
McCain adds that we should respect the deep value alternative) balances the utility of the errors they cause
commitments of people who express deontological rules (relative to that alternative). I have argued that, in many
and that the consequences of failing to respect these cases, some heuristics are inferior, even taking into ac-
commitments would be regrettable. In the target article count the cost of thinking. The prescriptively superior
and in Baron (1993a, Ch. 8), I discuss what "respect" in heuristics might have no more cost in effort, or so little
this case might mean. Stated simply (as McCain stated his cost that they are worth it. The simple consequentialist
argument), we have reason to discourage people from heuristic just mentioned may often be one of these. Other
acting on rules that harm us. (If so-called deontological examples (Baron 1988a) are these: (1) to avoid the status-
rules really achieve the best consequences, their rules do quo effect, ask yourself what you would do if neither
not harm us, and we have no reason to object.) The means option were the status quo; (2) to avoid the sunk-cost
we choose to discourage such rules have consequences effect, consider future consequences only, rather than
themselves, however. Respecting the views of students past expenditures. The fact that neither the endowment
means both trying to understand theirs and also insisting effect nor the sunk-cost effect are universally found sug-
that they understand ours. I have argued mainly for the gests that many people already use these prescriptively
latter, which I do not see as implying disrespect. correct heuristics.
Glymour seems to think that I endorse a simple version Phillips refers to the difficulty of predicting outcomes.
of egalitarian utilitarianism that requires that people care It is not clear how this difficulty justifies the nonconse-
as much for the children of others as for their own quentialist heuristics I cited, as opposed to the alternative
children. I do not (Baron 1993a, pp. 91-96). Caring more of making a holistic all-things-considered judgment based
for one's own children sets a precedent for parental on expected consequences. 2
responsibility, which coincides with biological motiva-
tions, so the long-run benefits of such caring may be R1.2. Contrary intuitions. Many objections to utilitari-
better (for parents as well as children) than those of anism involve examples in which it conflicts with intu-
comparable efforts to care for others' children. Glymour itions. Adler cites Foot's (Thomson 1990) example of the
may think that parental responsibility is more basic than unwilling organ donor; Arkes cites the girl-in-the-well
this justification implies. Even if it has no other justifica- example (usually attributed to Schelling); Glymour cites
tions, it might still be best for many people to believe the case of responsibilities toward children; and Grush
that. makes up an example involving experimentation on con-
Glymour is also bothered by the need to measure temporary people to help future people.
probabilities and utilities, and by the need for interper- Several replies are available (Baron 1993a, p. 14; Hare
sonal comparison. The latter is indeed a difficult problem, 1981, pp. 130-140; Singer 1977). First, the prima facie
although it is not necessarily insoluble (Baron 1993a, utilitarian analysis might be wrong, and intuition might
pp. 78-88; Hare 1981, pp. 117-29). It is also more be consistent with a more complete analysis. In real cases
ubiquitous than it seems, because many decisions involve like Grush's, the benefits are probably too uncertain, and

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 33


Response/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

alternatives to human experimentation are probably be best, in the long run, to punish certain desires, but
available. As suggested by Baron (1993b), sacrificing a probably simple neglect is a good prescriptive rule. Like
person for organs would make everyone else afraid, and other defenses of intuitive principles, however, both of
the cost of fear and protective activity might be too great. these arguments are contingent on the facts.
In the case of the girl in the well, spending the money on
more "efficient" lifesaving might not be a real option, and R1.4. Ecological validity. Following up this point, Ayton &
spending it on the girl might be the best use of it (Baron Harvey and Oatley make the important observation that
1993a, p. 147), especially taking into account the second- the rules we should follow depend on the facts of our
ary effects of a decision to let the girl die on the general situation. This is how the normative-prescriptive distinc-
level of cynicism about government. (Moreover, the real tion allows for cultural differences: these differences are
question is not whether to try to save the girl, but when to prescriptive, not normative.
give up trying. Decisions about giving up are made in real Arguably, intuitive moral systems work best in inter-
life, and resources are a consideration.) personal relationships, next best in organizations, and
Second, the intuitions involved might be good pre- worst in mass political systems. Thus, ecologically, the
scriptive rules that ought to be followed in real cases like proportion of cases in which normative theory disagrees
those described, even when the cases are true exceptions. with intuitive rules is smallest in cases of interpersonal
As argued before, we may be unable to recognize excep- interaction, greatest in the judgments that people make
tions with sufficient reliability. as citizens. For example, the act-omission distinction
Third, our intuitions might be wrong, even when they works well in an organization with clear lines of respon-
are strong. The abortion debate, the history of slavery, sibility, where going out of one's way to be helpful often
and religious conflicts all attest to the fact that opposing amounts to stepping on the toes of the person who was
intuitions can be held strongly. Strength is no guarantee supposed to do the job. But it does not work well when it
of correctness (Fischhoff et al. 1977). leads to support for laws assuming that people are unwill-
These intuitive examples differ from those used in the ing to donate their organs after death unless they explic-
studies I report because little effort has been made in itly state that they are willing. But surely the question of
stating them to ensure that the true utilitarian answer is ecological validity is a matter for empirical research (de-
clear, taking all consequences into account. From a utili- spite the formidable sampling problems).
tarian perspective, the cases are insufficiently described. A related issue is Teigen's point about correlations
among properties of options: his example is that omissions
R1.3. Evil desires and nonconsequentialist goals. It is are spread out over time but acts are not. High correla-
pointed out by McCain and Spranca (and possibly Phil- tions of this sort can affect the value of prescriptive rules.
lips) that consequentialism forces us to honor evil desires The high correlation between retribution and deterrence
or goals, such as those of the Nazis. Arkes would exclude would make retribution a good prescriptive rule to follow,
the satisfaction of jealousy and pettiness from his utilitar- if it were any easier. In hypothetical situations, and some
ian calculus. This is a general problem for consequential- real situations (such as penalties for vaccine injuries),
ism. Even hedonistic consequentialism must deal with these correlations are broken, and we can ask which of the
people who take pleasure in others' pain. Attempts to correlated factors people take to be the basis for their
restrict consequentialism to acceptable desires may be judgments.
difficult to square with any deeper justification of the
theory. My own justification, for example, stems from the R1.5. Intuitions as method. Following Hare (1981), I have
idea that we have reason to endorse principles that help criticized the use of intuitions as a normative theoretical
achieve our goals. These reasons apply regardless of our tool. Adler, Cohen, Dwyer, and Daniel either say or
goals, so any exclusion at the normative level would be imply that I use intuitions myself, so I cannot criticize
arbitrary, merely a way of tinkering with the theory to get others in this way. I have used no intuitions about cases or
it to fit our intuitions. moral principles to defend consequentialism. When I
Two main answers to this sort of objection have been have used examples, they are mostly difficult ones, where
given (Baron 1993a, p. 37; Hare 1981, pp. 140-46, 177- intuitions conflict. The argument against me must there-
82). First, the principle of neglecting evil desires is a good fore be that I have sought arguments to justify consequen-
prescriptive one. Only rarely, outside of fantastic hypo- tialism because my intuitions agreed with it at the outset,
thetical cases, does this principle go against utility maxi- and that if I had believed something else, I would have
mization, and we ought to lack confidence in our ability to chosen some other normative theory as the basis for
recognize these cases. (In this regard, I believe that this research. For what it is worth, this is incorrect, too, but I
principle is like the one forbidding adultery but unlike the will spare the reader the autobiographical details. I shall
principle of considering harmful omissions to be morally keep my intuitions to myself (unlike many writers, who
neutral.) Such cases are rare, in part because the satisfac- display them as primary data), except to say that I regard
tion of evil desires is often not the only alternative to them more as signposts about where to look (not always
doing nothing. As Hare (1981) suggests, the ancient successfully) for consequentialist arguments than any sort
Romans might have been just as satisfied with chariot of final criteria.
races as with the torture of Christians. Cohen points out that psychologists who endorse differ-
Second, taking a desire into account affects its strength ent normative theories will find different biases. The
in those who have it now and in those who might develop enterprise I have presented is indeed dependent on a
it in the future. People have some control over the desires conjunction of at least two claims: that a particular norma-
they and others develop. When we ignore a desire, we tive theory is correct and that judgments violate it. The
discourage its development. Normatively it might even fact that others might not endorse consequentialism is not

34 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Response /Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

in itself an argument against this enterprise or its conclu- scribed, such as fear in the public at large. When the case
sions. Likewise, the fact that subjects do not endorse the is modified so that these extra consequences are removed,
theory by which their judgments are evaluated (Evans, intuition may become less clear, or it may not. The case is
Fuller) is not an argument against the theory or the surely even more fantastic.
enterprise. Finally, intuitions can play a large role in arguments
A deeper form of the argument is that the whole about prescriptive theory. Consequentialists differ among
development of consequentialism involves intuitions themselves, for example, about the role of government
about what morality is. I shall deal with this later. Here, protection versus individual responsibility, the role of the
my concern is with intuitions about cases or moral princi- military in foreign policy, affirmative action, and so on.
ples. Similarly, Daniel and Frisch suggest that intuitions One could say that these matters hinge on facts, but
about consequences are required for applications of con- decisions must be made before all the facts are in.
sequentialism. I would agree, in the sense that the mean- Perhaps I am still being too hard-nosed about intu-
ing of "intuition" can shade into that of "judgment" (e.g., itions. Surely there is more to be said here.
about trade-offs of goals). But these are not direct judg-
ments about what is right in a given case or in general. R1.6. The nature of consequences. Consequentialism can
And the consequentialist theory does not require intu- be a slippery doctrine if anything counts as part of a
ition to judge what counts as a consequence; it can, for consequence. Here I discuss the standard issues in defin-
example, specify goal achievement as a criterion of what ing what is relevant to judgments of consequences and
counts. how competing considerations are weighed against each
Adler argues that a theory can be testable against other. Later, I shall discuss the special features of my own
intuitions as data. I agree, but I suggest that moral approach.
theories derived from intuition are psychological, de- Arkes asks about the role of distribution. Utilitarianism
scriptive theories rather than normative ones. Even when justifies equality of distribution according to the principle
conflicts among intuitions are removed by modifying the of declining marginal utility (when other factors are con-
theory, as Adler suggests, the theory becomes a kind of stant or unknown); this principle competes with others
deep-structure model, in which it is assumed that con- derived from utilitarianism, such as incentive and differ-
flicts arise from translation into surface structure. We can ences in desire for the good being distributed. People
still ask where the normative status of this theory comes have developed heuristics for distribution, most of which
from, that is, why we should endorse it as an evaluation are compatible with utilitarianism in some cases (Baron
standard. Different deep-structure models may hold for 1993b; 1993c). People's willingness to sacrifice to ensure
different individuals, cultures, or historical periods. It is equal division of a monetary reward in experiments is a
true, as Adler argues, that giving up intuition as a crite- reasonable prescriptive application of one of these heuris-
rion requires that some other kind of argument be made tics, not clearly nonnormative given how little is spe-
in its place. The norm-endorsement argument (Baron cified. So, to answer Arkes's question, such people may be
1930, pp. 17-31) is intended for this purpose, and other following the consequentialist norm, prescriptively if not
arguments (usually very similar ones, such as contractual- normatively.
ist arguments) have been used for the same purpose. Arkes, Evans, Frisch, and Ritov ask about the rele-
Dwyer and Railton ask for a more sympathetic account vance of emotion. I (Baron 1985, pp. 62-63) and many
of the possible role of intuitions in "broad reflective others have argued that emotional responses to decisions
equilibrium." I admit that I am opposed primarily to the are real consequences, not to be excluded from the
narrower view that normative moral theory is analogous utilitarian calculus simply because they are not fungible.
to linguistic theory and that the way to the best theory is But emotional responses to a decision always indicate the
to go back and forth between our intuitions and the theory availability of an option to try to control the emotions.
that accounts for them - putting wayward intuitions aside Sometimes the cost of control may be low enough to make
or modifying the theory to account for them - until we this option attractive.
reach equilibrium. I am also unsure that equilibrium is Evans points out that conflicts can arise between the
necessary for correct theories. Possibly some of our intu- goals of the decision maker and the goals of those affected
itions are so ingrained that even accepting a theory will by the decision, especially in cases of action versus inac-
not remove them. It makes logical sense to say, as some tion. This is why it is important to ask subjects what they
subjects in Baron (1992) essentially did, "I think that it is "should" do and to emphasize their fiduciary role in
wrong not to shoot one prisoner to save three others, but I hypothetical cases. Evans correctly points out that, in one
would not shoot." These subjects had accepted the conse- way, it is more difficult to show violations of consequen-
quentialist'prescription for this case, but they would tialism for purely personal decisions than for decisions
violate it, possibly because of their strong intuition on the that affect others. In the former case, we may have to rely
other side. more heavily on demonstrations of inconsistency.
Intuitions can have a role, however, as prima facie Frisch points out that even apparent inconsistency may
arguments about theory and as signposts in the analysis of not be enough to show nonconsequentialism if the way a
cases (Baron 1933a, pp. 6-7). Intuitions surely have led problem is presented affects the emotional consequences
Hare, Mill, and others to look hard for consequentialist anticipated by the subject. I have argued (Baron 1993a,
arguments concerning evil desires and violations of pp. 59-60) that experiments testing expected-utility the-
rights. Few would look so hard for a consequentialist ory should be fiduciary decisions that affect others who
defense of ethnic cleansing. In analyzing fantastic cases experience the consequences without knowing what deci-
such as Foot's (Thomson 1990) organ donor, intuition sions led to them.
leads to a search for consequences beyond those de- Irwin points to the difficulty of determining the overall

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 35


Response/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

best consequence when goals conflict. Although goals distinguish harmful acts and omissions, because a norm
may appear to be "incommensurable," it is reasonable to against harmful omissions will require them to sacrifice
assume that this is a problem in (prescriptive) practice for the benefit of the poor (Baron 1993a, pp. 24-25). I do
rather than (normative) theory (Baron 1986; 1988b). But not feel I have fully answered this question, but I have not
this is a problem. The difficulty of trading off conflicting found any other answers either. 4 (Why should I endorse
goals is a source of potential disagreement among people. what an ideal observer would endorse? Or, what I would
Reconciliation is difficult so long as the difficulty of mak- endorse if I were behind a veil of ignorance?) One possi-
ing trade-offs goes unrecognized. In sum, I agree with ble answer (Baron 1993a, pp. 29-31) is that agreement is
Irwin's comment. more difficult if endorsements are perceived as tailored to
self-interest. If people think I am endorsing a norm just
because it suits me and my ilk, they will do the same, and
R2. Peculiarities of my approach we will not agree. There is no necessary reason they
should behave this way; it is a fact of human psychology.
Several commentaries deal with the particular form of In sum, I have not set aside - as Glymour and Schick
consequentialism that was sketched in the target article. suggest I have - all reasons for endorsing norms, only
Many of my arguments do not hinge on the peculiarities of those that stem from ideals and from peculiarities of one's
this approach, but it is worth discussing. position. Without these stipulations, movement toward
agreement would be much more difficult.
R2.1. The argument for consequentialism. My basic argu- Schick also suggests that fairness and rights should be
ment is called "argle bargle" by Glymour, who lays bare considered as consequences in the Baron and Jurney
what he thinks is its logic. Pietroski thinks I might be (1933) study. (I note that the subjects of interest were
talking about a competence theory and does not under- asked to judge the consequences, so the definition of best
stand how an argument for consequentialism can avoid an consequences was based on whatever they wanted to
appeal to intuition. The target article does indeed provide include. Their voting decision was thus more influenced
only a rough sketch. Here is a little more. by fairness considerations than was their overall judgment
The argument begins by focusing on a certain type of of consequences.) Several others have also argued for
decision, that of endorsing moral principles or norms such a view, and Broome (1991) has shown that consider-
(through gossip and shunning as well as more direct ations of fairness are consistent with a form of utilitari-
means). Arguably, this is primarily what normative moral anism. I oppose this because it goes beyond the limita-
theory is about (Baron 1993a, pp. 17-24). This sort of tions I have suggested. Fairness involves comparisons of
claim is based on a decision to carve up the world in a goal achievement across people, so it does not stem from
certain way by abstracting a set of situations and consider- the goals themselves but, rather, from an ideal. Rights -
ing them as a separate class, namely, those involving in most senses of the term - are something to be pro-
endorsement of norms. tected regardless of the goals of those affected, so for the
The next step is to ask what reasons we have for most part these, too, are ideals. Like other ideals, these
endorsing such norms. Clearly, our reasons must come can arise from commitments to prescriptive rules, which,
from goals we already have. But I argue (following Hare in turn, may have consequentialist justifications.
1981, p. 40) that some of these goals must be ignored lest Railton is right that I failed to bypass the issue of self-
the enterprise become contaminated by intuitions of other conflict. Although the vaccination examples are
uncertain status, which make up many of our current largely free of this conflict (especially from the policy-
moral goals. This is probably the part that bothers Railton maker's perspective), I do claim that failing to help others
(and Schick) the most. at a small cost is wrong. The question of the proper
This argument depends on a distinction among types of balance of self-other interests is a difficult one that I
goals (Baron 1993a, pp. 35-36): other-regarding goals, hoped to avoid here. My view (Baron 1993a, pp. 89-99) is
self-regarding goals, and ideals. 3 Other-regarding goals that whereas we should adopt equal treatment of self and
are contingent on the goals of others; altruism is the prime others as a normative ideal, we must apply this standard
example, insofar as it means desiring what others desire to decisions about actual endorsement. This requires
because they desire it. Ideals concern standards for deci- taking into account the costs and benefits of moral exhor-
sion making by self and others, independently of people's tation. The best we can hope for in practice is a kind of
goals, and they include standards of physical beauty or "weighted utilitarianism" in which self-interest is typ-
religious piety as well as more clearly moral standards. ically weighed more than the interests of others, with the
Ideals are the kinds of goals we endorse when we endorse weight depending on the relationship.
norms. (This is what I mean by norms.) If we are trying to
decide what norms to endorse, we must therefore put R2.2. The nature and creation of goals. I am not sure that
aside our ideals lest they influence our decision. We need Katz is right in saying that I define well-being in terms of
not do this, but if we do, we stand a better chance of unrestricted desire satisfaction, although it is true that my
coming to some sort of agreement. Again, this is a defini- view is closer to this than to hedonism, and I may also
tion of an enterprise. We could, if we wanted, allow our have oversimplified this issue in the target article. In
existing ideals to influence our decisions about norm Baron (1993a, Ch. 3), I defend a view that is closer to what
endorsement, but this will not help to allay doubts about Scanlon (1993) calls informed desire-satisfaction.5 The
the validity of those ideals. question of what sort of well-being counts in a consequen-
The final step is an argument about why we might want tialist moral theory is answered, I argue, by the norm-
to ignore our particular position. As Morton points out, endorsement approach: if we are to endorse norms that
for example, the rich have more reason than the poor to tell others to look out for our well-being, what sort of

36 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


Response/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions

concerns about well-being give us reason to endorse such good to say it was not intended or desired, or not the
norms? The relevant concerns are "informed" because we function of the option chosen. Better to have chosen
would not want people to help us achieve goals that are another option.
derived from deeper goals on the basis of incorrect beliefs
(Baron 1993a, pp. 37-38). It is the deeper goals that give
us our real reasons for endorsing norms. On the other R3. Psychological and prescriptive questions
hand, we would endorse norms that tell others to look out
for our goals even if we did not experience the effects. The The remaining issues concern the experimental demon-
question of whether we would endorse a norm concerning strations of nonconsequentialist judgments and their im-
some aspect of consequences (experienced, past, future, plications for policy. These issues are intertwined with the
etc.) thus provides a standard for assessing whether that normative questions.
aspect is relevant to our well-being in the sense needed
(Baron 1993a, Ch. 3). Many of the critics of desire theories R3.1. Experimental difficulties. The "et cetera heuristic" is
(cited by Katz) lack such a standard. cited by Oatley, the possibility that subjects consider
One of the many questions that can be raised about factors not included in the experimenter's scenario, such
goals is found in Arkes's case of making a promise to a as the role of "herd immunity" in vaccination decisions.
dying friend. Arkes seems to think that the friend's goals Tetlock makes similar arguments, for example, about the
no longer count after death. Yet, arguably, we would possibility of value expression in compensation judg-
endorse a norm of keeping such promises because some of ments. It is, of course, impossible to rule out such conse-
our goals concern states that occur after death, and we quentialist factors completely. However, in most of the
would want others to honor these goals, just as we want studies reported, subjects were asked for justifications of
them to honor other goals. So I argue (Baron 1993a, their answers, and questions were modified if more than a
pp. 42-45; opposing Parfit 1984) that past goals should be couple of subjects responded in this way. Moreover, in
honored in some cases. The norm of honoring deathbed reading subjects' justifications, we look not only for the
promises may be seen as a fully consequentialist one. absence of extraneous arguments but also for the presence
Katz raises an interesting case of helping an adolescent of nonconsequentialist justifications, and we find these in
commit suicide. It is true that this dilemma would be abundance (putting aside the question raised earlier about
solved if we did not put aside the norms we already have, the possible consequentialist benefits of applying appar-
as I have said we should. But that is not the only solution. ently nonconsequentialist rules - the point being that
We can act to save such adolescents out of concern for the subjects do not recognize these benefits, if they exist).
achievement of their future goals, those they will have if Finally, in most studies we have explicitly attempted to
they live (Baron 1993a, pp. 41-42; Hare 1981, p. 101). In eliminate alternative consequentialist interpretations; for
the typical case, we must also consider the goals of others, example, in our studies of compensation decisions, we
such as parents, regarding the life of the person, and goals explicitly told subjects that liability insurance rates would
stemming from our own attachment. And we can ignore not increase, and, in some cases, that the amount of the
the adolescent's goals to the extent to which we think that award would be secret (to limit the expressive effect). The
they are subgoals based on false beliefs, for example, a empirical papers cited provide more detailed (albeit not
belief that life is completely hopeless. necessarily complete) answers to this line of criticism.
An important question raised by Katz, Spranca, and Tetlock also asks about the role of blame avoidance and
Tetlock concerns when we should create or destroy goals. anticipatory regret in apparently nonconsequentialist de-
Katz suggests we should give new goals to encourage the cisions. These are consequences that should indeed be
adolescent to live. One possible answer (Baron 1993a, considered, so it is possible in principle that these factors
pp. 45-50, also suggested by Spranca) is that we should provide a consequentialist account of our results or that
view decisions that create or destroy goals as no different subjects simply overweigh them. In the policy-maker
from other decisions, to be made with reference to the role, however, it seems implausible that people weigh
achievement of goals in general. These goals can include their own feelings as much as the lives of untold numbers
goals for the existence of other goals. This approach does of others. Moreover, subjects' justifications in most
not tell us what goals everyone should have, but it does studies indicate that they accept the norms that lead to
tell us how to take the next step from wherever we are. (In blame or regret. Subjects seem to see their emotional
this regard this is analogous to the Bayesian theory of responses to decisions as resulting from their own norma-
belief formation.) By this account, whether, to give such tive judgments (Baron 1992). They thus think of their
adolescents new goals has no necessary answer, but we normative judgments as controlling both their decisions
would probably want to see them have certain goals and and their emotions. When subjects are convinced to
we would try to provide them. This is analogous to change their normative judgments, both their decisions
creating goals in ourselves, and it is relevant to decisions and their anticipated emotions change in response.
about bringing new beings into the world. This theory (or The question of avoiding blame from others is slightly
any alternative to it) is therefore relevant to both morality more complex. Nonconsequentialist biases may be exag-
and rationality. gerated because some subjects know that others have
I am unsure about the value of Teigen's interesting these biases and will want them to decide accordingly,
suggestion to distinguish functions, goals, and effects. even if these subjects do not share the bias in question.
The idea of making decisions in terms of functions is For example, some of the opposition to active euthanasia
reminiscent of the doctrine of the double effect, with all could result from people's feelings that other people
its problems (Kuhse 1987; Schick 1991). If a decision leads oppose it. Less likely is the possibility that all people are
to a bad but avoidable and foreseeable situation, it does no wrong in their expectations about others. The experi-

BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1 37


Response/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
ments thus constitute prima facie evidence for the exis- provided by the use of within-subject designs in many
tence of the biases in question. studies and from subjects' written justifications of their
Tetlock also questions the Baron and Jurney (1993) judgments. Although some laboratory demonstrations of
study of resistance to coerced reform, arguing that re- biases are easily recognized and corrected by subjects,
sponses might "represent reasonable political goals that, many others are not (Frisch 1993). Ayton & Harvey say
when carefully factored into the decision calculus, might that I 'blame" subjects for their biases. When we discover
lead reasonable people to conclude that they would not be that physics students still endorse naive theories of mo-
better offon the whole if the reforms were implemented." tion, however, we tend to blame their teachers, if anyone.
(Schick expresses the same concern.) It is interesting that Perhaps we should take the same attitude here, except
this is the only study reviewed in which subjects were that blame is not really the issue.
explicitly asked to judge the consequences of alternative Evans makes an interesting distinction between im-
options, and the important cases were those in which the plicit and explicit rules. The fact that subjects can provide
subject would not bring a consequence about but judged justifications does not, indeed, show that they are follow-
that consequence to be better on the whole. In other ing explicit rules that they have recognized all along. They
studies, I have simply assumed that, for example, subjects could instead be basing their decisions on analogies to
would judge fewer deaths as better than more deaths examples, and they could be inventing the justifications
(regardless of whether the cause was action or omission); post hoc. But invention of principles also sets precedents
this assumption should (and will) be checked in future for justifications in later cases. And principles are some-
studies. times explicit outside the laboratory. The transition from
Still, Tetlock's concern is on target, and further re- ad hoc decisions to principles (and back) may be gradual
search should address the problem of inducing subjects to and complex (Hare, 1952, Ch. 4).
give careful judgments of "better on the whole." For Jackson suggests that departures from consequential-
example, as Railton suggests, subjects might be asked to ism tend to be robust, whereas departures from logic,
provide deeper justifications of the principles on which decision theory, and probability theory tend to be more
they base their opposition, and perhaps these will turn fragile. Perhaps this could be tested by matchyig moral
out to be consequentialist. On the other hand, such and nonmoral cases (e.g., of omission bias). In my class-
second-order justifications could be post hoc, constructed room experience, the most robust bias of all is the ambi-
on the spot. guity effect (Ellsberg 1961; Baron 1993a, pp. 63-66),
Another problem raised by Ritov, who suggests that which concerns nonmoral decision theory. Many scholars,
judgments about consequences, even consequences for including Ellsberg, do not recognize it as a bias, just as
others, might be affected by framing. We cannot infer this many do not recognize nonconsequentialist decisions as
from the Asian-disease problem she cites, because sub- biases. Jackson is right that people who do not follow
jects were asked about decisions, not judgments of conse- decision theory are incomprehensible, but the sense of
quences. But, undoubtedly, inconsistencies in the judg- "follow" here is much weaker than that required by
ment of consequences will emerge, and the experimental expected-utility theory. People can be generally sensible
approach used by Baron and Jurney will lose some of its but still make serious mistakes.
appeal and simplicity.
In the Baron and Jurney (1993) study, however, the R3.3. The nature of overgeneralization. The term "over-
status-quo effect supports our interpretation: subjects generalization" did not imply that people made errors of
would vote against repeal of borderline proposals already inference (as Glymour thought it did). Nor did I intend to
passed but not vote to pass the same proposals; this say that overgeneralization is the only source of nonconse-
suggests that the unwillingness to vote for these proposals quentialist decisions. This idea is merely a first attempt at
was a result of participating in the decision rather than a partial explanation of the biases at issue. Many details
result of some unexpressed judgment that the conse- remain to be filled in. What I meant is that typically good
quences were truly worse. heuristics are applied blindly, regardless of their pur-
In the end, though, questionnaire studies provide only poses, as when an arithmetic student assumes that adding
one source of evidence for nonconsequentialist judg- a constant to each side of a fraction does not change its
ments. Other sources are behavior of people in the real value, overgeneralizing a principle that works well for two
world (e.g., the discrepancy between the number of sides of an equation.
lawsuits against the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, or I accept Levy's argument that this account may not
Arkes's examples of the sunk-cost effect) and explicit apply so much to development of moral principles within
statements of nonconsequentialist doctrine, for example, individuals as to their historical development (although it
by philosophers. Fuller is right to question the relation would be interesting to check both pathways through
between hypothetical questions and real behavior, but research). My assumption here is not that all principles
any method has its problems, and different methods have begin as consequentialist ones (as Cohen understood me
different problems, so all are useful together. to say), but, rather, that principles that have no conse-
quentialist value tend to be weeded out by cultural
R3.2. The nature of errors. Subjects are making slips rather evolution.
than violations, Ayton & Harvey suggest, because they
are (sometimes) easily talked out of the violations. By this R3.4. Prescriptions. A few comments were devoted to the
account, any change of mind resulting from persuasion prescriptive enterprise. One problem with prescriptions
would be ascribed to subjects' prior belief in what they is that we must decide what to do in the real world before
were apparently just convinced of. Further evidence that all the facts are in. Philosophers and psychologists usually
responses were not slips in any normal sense of the term is prefer to leave these matters to politicians and others who

38 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (1994) 17:1


References/Baron: Nonconsequentialist decisions
live the life of action rather than reflection. As an aca- 3. Similar distinctions were made by Elster (1985, p. 240),
demic, I must endorse Grush's call for understanding Gibbard (1988), and Hare (1963, Ch. 8).
cognitive architecture and Spranca's call for thorough 4. A social-contract view is close to the one I propose (Baron
evaluation of any educational attempts, but I sympathize 1993a, pp. 20-22), but no better in this regard.
with those who must act before these tasks are accom- 5. The concept of "goal" is closer, however, to "value," in the
plished. sense of a standard of evaluation or judgment, than to "desire" in
the sense of a tendency to choose. In the terms of Kahneman and
Tetlock correctly observes that my argument opens up Snell (1992), desire is analogous to "decision utility" and value is
a rationale for statism. The work on coerced reform could analogous to "experience utility" ("analogous" rather than identi-
argue for government-imposed reforms even without cal because some values do not concern experiences). Values
complete public support. But the "do no harm" heuristic (goals) give us reasons for preferences, and preferences (desires)
will also increase opposition to cutting government pro- may be mistaken in their responsiveness to those reasons.
grams that should be dismantled. So governments would
also be justified in cutting popular but wasteful programs
(hoping, again, that the change will become the "status References
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many personal decisions to the state." Decisions once
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and vice versa. The issue is which decisions should be Rodopi. [JEA]
Alexander, R. (1979) Darwinism and human affairs. University of Washington
regulated, not whether any should be. (For example,
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property rights in Western cultures involve extensive Allais, M. (1953) Le comportement de I'homme rationnel devant le risque:
regulation that is not culturally universal.) The principal- Critique des postuiats et axioms de 1'e'colc ame>icaine. Economctrica
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