日期:2011-09-27 12:03


Moral philosophy

Goodness has nothing to do with it

Utilitarians are not nice people

Sep 24th 2011 | from the print edition

IN THE grand scheme of things Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are normally thought of as good guys. Between them, they came up with the ethical theory known as utilitarianism. The goal of this theory is encapsulated in Bentham’s aphorism that “the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.”


Which all sounds fine and dandy until you start applying it to particular cases. A utilitarian, for example, might approve of the occasional torture of suspected terrorists—for the greater happiness of everyone else, you understand. That type of observation has led Daniel Bartels at Columbia University and David Pizarro at Cornell to ask what sort of people actually do have a utilitarian outlook on life. Their answers, just published in Cognition, are not comfortable.

这些听起来真是完美无瑕,但当你开始将其应用在某一特殊案例中,完美理论就瓦解了,比如说,一个实用主义者或许会认可对恐怖主义嫌疑分子做一些拷问折磨,为了每个人最大程度的幸福,当然你会理解。此种观察引起哥伦比亚大学的Daniel Bartels和康纳尔大学的David Pizarro二位学者的疑问:怎样的人群是真正抱有实用主义的人生观?而二人在《认知》杂志上揭晓出的答案让人不太舒服。

One of the classic techniques used to measure a person’s willingness to behave in a utilitarian way is known as trolleyology. The subject of the study is challenged with thought experiments involving a runaway railway trolley or train carriage. All involve choices, each of which leads to people’s deaths. For example: there are five railway workmen in the path of a runaway carriage. The men will surely be killed unless the subject of the experiment, a bystander in the story, does something. The subject is told he is on a bridge over the tracks. Next to him is a big, heavy stranger. The subject is informed that his own body would be too light to stop the train, but that if he pushes the stranger onto the tracks, the stranger’s large body will stop the train and save the five lives. That, unfortunately, would kill the stranger.


Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro knew from previous research that around 90% of people refuse the utilitarian act of killing one individual to save five. What no one had previously inquired about, though, was the nature of the remaining 10%.


To find out, the two researchers gave 208 undergraduates a battery of trolleyological tests and measured, on a four-point scale, how utilitarian their responses were. Participants were also asked to respond to a series of statements intended to get a sense of their individual psychologies. These statements included, “I like to see fist fights”, “The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear”, and “When you really think about it, life is not worth the effort of getting up in the morning”. Each was asked to indicate, for each statement, where his views lay on a continuum that had “strongly agree” at one end and “strongly disagree” at the other. These statements, and others like them, were designed to measure, respectively, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and a person’s sense of how meaningful life is.


Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro then correlated the results from the trolleyology with those from the personality tests. They found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas (push the fat guy off the bridge) and personalities that were psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless. Utilitarians, this suggests, may add to the sum of human happiness, but they are not very happy people themselves.

然后,Bartels和 Pizarro把电车测试的结果和人格测试结果联系起来,他们发现对道德抉择(即把那个胖子推下桥)的实用主义选择和精神变态、不择手段或是厌世情绪的人格有着很大联系。他们还指出实用主义者或会为人类谋求更多的幸福,可他们本身却并不快乐。

That does not make utilitarianism wrong. Crafting legislation—one of the main things that Bentham and Mill wanted to improve—inevitably involves riding roughshod over someone’s interests. Utilitarianism provides a plausible framework for deciding who should get trampled. The results obtained by Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro do, though, raise questions about the type of people who you want making the laws. Psychopathic, Machiavellian misanthropes? Apparently, yes.

这并不说明实用主义就是错的。法律的精确完善不可避免的要伤害一些人的利益,这也是边沁和穆勒想要去提高完善的主要社会问题之一。而实用主义为人们提供了一个算是合理的思维框架来决定谁应该被被踩在脚下不管不顾。但是,Bartels和 Pizarro两位博士的实验结果却提出了一个问题,人们希望哪一类人做法律的制定者呢?精神变态不择手段的反人类者?显然正是他们在做。

  • refusev. 拒绝 n. 垃圾,废物 adj. 无用的
  • scalen. 鳞,刻度,衡量,数值范围 v. 依比例决定,攀登
  • disagreev. 不一致,有分歧,不适应,不适宜
  • indicatev. 显示,象征,指示 v. 指明,表明
  • involvevt. 包含,使陷入,使忙于,使卷入,牵涉
  • frameworkn. 结构,框架,参照标准,体系
  • foundationn. 基础,根据,建立 n. 粉底霜,基金会
  • bystandern. 旁观者
  • inevitablyadv. 不可避免地
  • respondv. 回答,答复,反应,反响,响应 n. [建]壁