Responding to Joshua Greene, Peter Singer has weighed in on the trolley problem and says our intuitions are not moral authorities.
Greene’s work helps us understand where our moral intuitions come from. But the fact that our moral intuitions are universal and part of our human nature does not mean that they are right. On the contrary, these findings should make us more sceptical about relying on our intuitions.
My first exposure to the empirical study of moral intuitions came about while I was researching the ‘yuk factor’ pseudo-arguments of Leon Kass, who was then Chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics. My critique of Kass’ reliance on ‘the wisdom of repugnance’ mirrors Singer’s view on moral intuitions. Gut feelings should have no place in moral decision-making. They entrench sides in irreconcilable debates, and inhibit public policy.
That, and they are often wrong.
Coincidentally, the emotionally charged polarizing action of moral intuitions may serve to provide exactly the sort of moral motivation I referred to in my previous post. If so, our moral intuitions should be led by moral reasons, not the other way around.