Species Difference and Moral Perception of Euthanasia




Associate Professor of Psychology

Project Summary

As a prospective major in philosophy, I spend a lot of time studying normative questions and theories (e.g. what we should do). While the inquiry itself is intriguing and intellectually fulfilling, it also makes me exceedingly curious about the other side – the empirical side - of the world (e.g. what people actually do). The PURM project that I engaged in this summer - a moral psychology study on Euthanasia – gave me an excellent opportunity to explore questions that arise in this ‘other side’, and in addition try to answer those questions.

Under the guidance of Prof. Geoffrey Goodwin, I conducted a study on people’s different attitudes towards euthanasia of humans and animals. The study consisted of an extensive review of works in both Psychology and Philosophy, several surveys that are carefully designed to capture people’s differing moral judgments of human and animal euthanasia, and statistical analyses that allowed us to interpret the results of the surveys.

With backgrounds in both Psychology and Philosophy, Prof. Goodwin showed me how and why normative inquiry (Moral Philosophy) needs not only be the ‘other side’ of empirical studies but can also complement them in significant ways. For example, the project itself is inspired by ongoing philosophical debates on euthanasia, and many terms that are defined and emphasized in these debates (e.g. voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia, active and passive euthanasia) proved to be extremely useful when we were writing our survey questions. Therefore, although the study is still first and foremost a Psychological study, it is to a large extent also inter-disciplinary.

Participating in this research project not only familiarized me with tools that are frequently used in quantitative research and surveys (SPSS, MTurk, Qualtrics); it also allowed me to experience being a scholar who is actively engaging in (and enjoying) research, and enabled me to see how philosophical thinking can be applied to other fields (and, in return, be inspired by other fields). All of these, I believe, is essential for a full learning experience, but nonetheless difficult to achieve within the standard curriculum. Therefore, I am immensely grateful that I have had the opportunity to take part in this fascinating and meaningful research project during the summer.