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Impact of Psychological Research on Moral Theory: Prospect Theory and the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing


It is widely acknowledged that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky's Prospect Theory offers a better explanation of our decision making under uncertainty than some of the most widely accepted theories to-date, including especially Expected Utility Theory. I give a sympathetic summary of the case against Expected Utility Theory, but then show how Prospect Theory has not demonstrated that it can give a better explanation of our moral decision making under uncertainty (contrary, e.g., to the claims of Tamara Horowitz). In particular, it has not been demonstrated that it can give a better explanation of our intuitions in hard cases, such as the much discussed Trolley Car cases concocted by Philippa Foot and developed by her and Warren Quinn, among other contemporary moral philosophers concerned with issues often studied by both Expected Utility Theory and Prospect Theory. Prospect Theory has a weakness in common with Expected Utility Theory, namely, both are too focused on the consequences of our actions. In this respect, Prospect Theory is a consequentialist theory of moral decision making, and I bring out Prospect Theory's limitations by exploring the work of Foot's and Quinn's non-consequentialist theorizing in this context, with special emphasis on the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, and related principles like the Doctrine of Double Effect.

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