Allow me to outline the observed process and three hypothetical examples below. For the sake of keeping the samples simple, I will ignore prior moral or religious convictions that a regular person would hold.

A person is confronted with an issue or approach to be judged. The person places themselves in the hypothetical situation and evaluates the implications for themselves according to their beliefs and convictions. The outcome of the evaluation determine the person's stance on the issue.

What is the term for this decision mechanism?

I figured "empathy" at first but that would require emotional transference with a real or hypothetical individual which is not given in this case. "Reverse Projection" came to mind as well, but it is a very loose fit and projection usually implies the unawareness of the person projecting while the process above is not influenced by the person's awareness.

Examples of mechanism in use:

Issue: Is killing good or bad?


If someone were to kill me, it would end my life which is bad. --> Killing is bad.

Issue: Should a government provide free healthcare financed by taxation to everyone without restriction?

Person A (history of health issues, low income job, insecure):

If I become sick again, I may not be able to afford the treatment myself. The added taxation will not concern my income bracket. The added security net thus increases chances of my survival at no or little expense to me. --> Yes, a government should provide free healthcare financed by taxation to everyone without restriction.

Person B (health freak, high income job, arrogant):

I take care of my health which is why I am not sick. The added taxation would take away from the money I make while providing no additional benefit to me. --> No, a government should not provide free healthcare financed by taxation to everyone without restriction.

  • $\begingroup$ So individuals accept the application of a general rule based on whether the general rule at least partially benefits themselves? It sounds a bit like a version of utilitarian morality with a dash of self-interest and rationalisation. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2012 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that would sum it up nicely in social contexts. However I am observing it as a subconscious routine that several (albeit by far not all) people exposed to experiment are able to recognize in their own decision making and which was unconscious before. $\endgroup$
    – 0x90
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Just checking, when you say "experiment", are you saying that you've actually run this experiment and obtained certain results? If so, you might want to say a little bit more about your procedure and results. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2012 at 8:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I apologize for the confusing term "experiment". They do not hold up to scientific scrutiny and are thus not a true "experiment" in the scientific sense. I requested 7 people (3 male, 4 female) to make a judgement on a general rule (various rules). Afterwards, I asked each person to trace the process of his/her decision-making. All had issues with this process. When presented with the theory above, 3 out of 7 (1 male, 2 female) agreed that this matched their decision making process - thus my assumption that I'm dealing with a common and perhaps already scientifically examined phenomena. $\endgroup$
    – 0x90
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 8:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My first thought after reading the title was that it related to the literature on egocentric judgment, but after reading the full question, it seems to be more about moral judgments in particular, which that literature has not focused on as much. Is it accurate to say that what you are interested in is judgments from the moral domain? $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2012 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


In naïve realism, the subject acknowledges others' points of view while affirming the superiority of his/her own. Ross and Ward (1996) review the literature. I tried to write a summary of their fine paper, but I couldn't do it justice. I provide a link to it below.

In selfishness or unenlightened self-interest, the subject may consider multiple points of view, but ultimately chooses by myopically predicting maximal net personal gain.

In philosophy, moral relativism is concerned with (inter-personal or inter-group) differences in moral judgements, and whether and how they can be reconciled. My point here is that your subjects' moral relativistic beliefs may impact their decision mechanisms and thus may be worth surveying.


  • Ross, L., & Ward, A. (1996) Naive realism in everyday life: Implications for social conflict and misunderstanding. In T. Brown, E. S. Reed & E. Turiel (Eds.), Values and knowledge (pp. 103–135). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. [pdf]

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