Joshua Greene of Harvard University and author of Moral Tribes spoke with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about moral dilemmas and what Greene calls the tragedy of common-sense morality.

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Check Your Knowledge:

1. Greene suggests his notion of “the tragedy of common-sense morality” as a sequel to Garrett Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. What is the tragedy of common-sense morality, how does it differ from the tragedy of the commons, and why is it so difficult to overcome?

Why is utilitarianism so misunderstood?

2. Why is utilitarianism poorly named and misunderstood, according to Greene? To what extent does his concept of “deep pragmatism” rectify this? Explain.

Going Deeper:

3. Roberts asks Greene how a deep pragmatist would respond to recent accusations of price gouging against Uber in Sydney, Australia. To what extent does Greene characterize the “northern” and southern” perspectives satisfactorily? With which perspective do you have more sympathy, and why?

4. At the end of the conversation, Roberts relates Greene’s thought experiment involving a world comprised of three species: homo selfishus, homo justlikeus, and homo utilitus. Do you agree with Greene’s conclusion about attractiveness of homo utilitus?

Extra Credit:

5. Both Greene and Jonathan Haidt argue that our morality is a product of evolution, and each identifies “tribes” or “minds” that result. How do the moral groups compare in their approaches? How would Haidt suggest Greene’s tragedy of common-sense morality can be overcome?

6. What is the “trolley problem?” What, according to Greene, is the best way to “maximize happiness impartially” when confronted with the trolley problem? How does the trolley problem reflect David Rose’s concept of the “greater good rationalization problem?” How does Rose’s notion help explain people’s varying behavior in trolley situations? What does the greater good rationalization problem suggest about the potential to overcome the tragedy of common sense morality?