Marathon Moral Reasoning Laboratory

Photograph of train tracks.

This class expands upon a classic set of "trolley questions" involving whether it is permissible to take one human life in order to save several others. (Image courtesy of jamacdonald on Flickr.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

January IAP 2007



Cite This Course

Course Description

This seminar focuses on the cognitive science of moral reasoning. Philosophers debate how we decide which moral actions are permissible. Is it permissible to take one human life in order to save others? We have powerful and surprisingly rich and subtle intuitions to such questions.

In this class, you will learn how intuitions can be studied using formal analytical paradigms and behavioral experiments. Thursday evening, meet to learn about recent advances in theories of moral reasoning. Overnight, formulate a hypothesis about the structure of moral reasoning and design a questionnaire-based experiment to test this. Friday, present and select 1-2 proposals and collect data; we will then reconvene to analyze and discuss results and implications for the structure of the moral mind.

This course is offered during the Independent Activities Period (IAP), which is a special 4-week term at MIT that runs from the first week of January until the end of the month.

John Mikhail, Joshua Tenenbaum, and Rebecca Saxe. 9.93 Marathon Moral Reasoning Laboratory, January IAP 2007. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

For more information about using these materials and the Creative Commons license, see our Terms of Use.