Taboo Trade-offs: Reactions to Transactions That Transgress the Spheres of Justice

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Abstract

Taboo trade-offs violate deeply held normative intuitions about the integrity, even sanctity, of certain relationships and the moral-political values underlying those relationships. For instance, if asked to estimate the monetary worth of one's children, of one's loyalty to one's country, or of acts of friendship, people find the questions more than merely confusing or cognitively intractable: they find such questions themselves morally offensive. This article draws on Fiske's relational theory and Tetlock's value pluralism model: (a) to identify the conditions under which people are likely to treat trade-offs as taboo; (b) to describe how people collectively deal with trade-offs that become problematic; (c) to specify the conceptual components of moral outrage and the factors that affect the intensity of reactions to various explicit trade-offs; (d) to explore the various strategies that decision-makers—required by resource scarcity and institutional roles to confront taboo trade-offs—use to deflect the wrath of censorious observers; (e) to offer a method of dispute resolution based on pluralism.

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