Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

Does 'Could' Lead to Good? Toward a Theory of Moral Insight

by Ting Zhang, Francesca Gino and Joshua Margolis


We introduce the construct of moral insight and study how it can be elicited when people face ethical dilemmas—challenging decisions that feature tradeoffs between competing and seemingly incompatible values. Moral insight consists of discovering solutions that move beyond selecting one conflicting ethical option over another. Moral insight encompasses both a cognitive process and a discernible output: it involves the realization that an ethical dilemma might be addressed other than by conceding one set of moral imperatives to meet another, and it involves the generation of solutions that allow competing objectives to be met. Across four studies, we find that moral insight is generated when individuals are prompted to consider the question "What could I do?" in place of their intuitive approach of considering "What should I do?" Together, these studies point toward a theory of moral insight and important practical implications.

Keywords: Moral insight; Ethical dilemma; Could mindset; creativity; Divergent thinking; Moral Sensibility; Creativity; Decision Choices and Conditions;


Zhang, Ting, Francesca Gino, and Joshua Margolis. "Does 'Could' Lead to Good? Toward a Theory of Moral Insight." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-118, June 2014.