Reasoning with fundamental rights


People often withdraw previously drawn conclusions in light of new information. This defeasible reasoning is also important for law, where judges often have to change their verdicts in light of new evidence. Here we investigate defeasibility in the context of conflicting fundamental rights. When, for instance, law to property conflicts with law to information, can one of these rights be “defeated” by the other? We embedded conflicting fundamental rights in inference tasks (Experiment 1) and in elaborated vignettes (Experiment 2). Results show that people decide between two conflicting fundamental rights in a rational way. Case by case, participants protected that fundamental right whose violation evoked the highest moral outrage (Experiment 1) or whose violation was considered to be more serious (Experiment 2). We discuss the implications of our findings for law theory and psychology.

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