Drunk Utilitarians

Drunk Utilitarians


Laboratory assistants have to do all sorts of terrible, embarrassing things, but surely this is among the silliest: Enter a bar in Grenoble, France. Identify people who look moderately drunk. Walk up to them, tap them on the shoulder, and say something along the lines of, “Uh, hey, this is awkward, but, would you be interested in answering some questions about philosophy?”

The researchers gave people at the bar the basic trolley problem questions. The results:

a correlation between each subject’s level of intoxication and his or her willingness to flip the switch or push the person—the drunker the subject, the more willing he or she was to kill one hypothetical person for the sake of the hypothetical many.

The above quotes are taken from The Atlantic, and the research paper can be found here. In the paper the authors, Aaron Duke and Laurent Bègue, write:

Across two field studies, we demonstrated that BAC [blood alcohol content] was significantly and positively correlated with utilitarian preferences in the footbridge dilemma, suggesting that impaired social processing is likely a stronger predictor of utilitarian preferences than the integrity of one’s higher-order cognitive system.

Impaired social processing? I don’t think so.

By the way, here is an excerpt from Bentham’s will:

My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct … he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my will and at the top of which I have written Auto Icon. The skeleton he will cause to be put together in such a manner as that the whole figure may be seated in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing. I direct that the body thus prepared shall be transferred to my executor. He will cause the skeleton to be clad in one of the suits of black occasionally worn by me. The body so clothed, together with the chair and the staff in the my later years bourne by me, he will take charge of and for containing the whole apparatus he will cause to be prepared an appropriate box or case and will cause to be engraved in conspicuous characters on a plate to be affixed thereon and also on the labels on the glass cases in which the preparations of the soft parts of my body shall be contained … my name at length with the letters ob: followed by the day of my decease. If it should so happen that my personal friends and other disciples should be disposed to meet together on some day or days of the year for the purpose of commemorating the founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation my executor will from time to time cause to be conveyed to the room in which they meet the said box or case with the contents therein to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.

What’s impaired about thinking your friends will want to party with your dead body? Totally normal.

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