Utilitarian or deontological models of moral behavior—What predicts morally questionable decisions?
The distinction between consequentialism and deontologism is at the core of moral philosophy and has also attracted attention in the economic analysis of moral decisions. We consider voting games where people can earn money by taking morally questionable decisions. Our predictions are taken from a simple behavioral game-theoretic model and depend on the underlying moral preferences. For both kinds of moral theories, we consider a strict and a moderate version. Moral absolutism prohibits certain behavior under any circumstances. Moderate deontologists face
internal moral costs whenever they violate a norm but take the consequences into account. Strict consequentialists care only about consequences. Moderate consequentialists face moral costs from violating a norm if and only if their violation yields negative consequences for others. We test our hypotheses experimentally for lying on the outcome of a lottery and taking money designated for donation. Our data support moderate deontologism for lying and moderate
consequentialism for donation. We attribute this to telling the truth being a duty which, if violated, always leads to moral costs, while voting for taking the money yields moral costs if and only if people actually get it.