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Cass R. Sunstein, Moral Heuristics and Risk, in 5 Emotions and Risky Technologies 3 (Sabine Roeser ed., Springer 2010).

Abstract: Much of everyday morality consists of simple, highly intuitive rules that generally make sense but that fail in certain cases. In this essay I will identify a set of heuristics that now influence factual and moral judgments in the domain of risk, and to try to make plausible the claim that some widely held practices and beliefs are a product of those heuristics. Often moral heuristics represent generalizations from a range of problems for which they are indeed well-suited, and hence most of the time, such heuristics work well. The problem comes when the generalizations are wrenched out of context and treated as freestanding or universal principles, applicable to situations in which their justifications no longer operate. There is nothing obtuse, or monstrous, about refusing to apply a generalization in contexts in which its rationale is absent. In the moral and political domains, it is hard to come up with unambiguous cases where the error is both highly intuitive and on reflection uncontroversial – where people can ultimately be embarrassed about their own intuitions. Nonetheless, I hope to show that whatever one’s moral commitments, moral heuristics exist and indeed are omnipresent, adversely affecting our reactions to social risks.