Do university ethics classes influence students’ real-world moral choices? We aimed to conduct the first controlled study of the effects of ordinary philosophical ethics classes on real-world moral choices, using non-self-report, non-laboratory behavior as the dependent measure. We assigned 1332 students in four large philosophy classes to either an experimental group on the ethics of eating meat or a control group on the ethics of charitable giving. Students in each group read a philosophy article on their assigned topic and optionally (...) viewed a related video, then met with teaching assistants for 50-minute group discussion sections. They expressed their opinions about meat ethics and charitable giving in a follow-up questionnaire (1032 respondents after exclusions). We obtained 13,642 food purchase receipts from campus restaurants for 495 of the students, before and after the intervention. Purchase of meat products declined in the experimental group (52% of purchases of at least $4.99 contained meat before the intervention, compared to 45% after) but remained the same in the control group (52% both before and after). Ethical opinion also differed, with 43% of students in the experimental group agreeing that eating the meat of factory farmed animals is unethical compared to 29% in the control group. We also attempted to measure food choice using vouchers, but voucher redemption rates were low and no effect was statistically detectable. It remains unclear what aspect of instruction influenced behavior. (shrink)
Abstract: Numerous scholars have claimed that positive ethical traits such as virtues are important in human psychology and behavior. Psychologists have begun to test these claims. The scores of studies on virtue do not yet constitute a mature science of virtue because of unresolved theoretical and methods challenges. In this article, we addressed those challenges by clarifying how virtue research relates to prosocial behavior, positive psychology, and personality psychology and does not run afoul of the fact–value distinction. We propose the (...) STRIVE-4 model of virtue to help resolve the theoretical and methodical problems, unify extant research, and fruitfully guide future research.___________** For PDF you can email: bradcokelet [at] ku [dot] edu **. (shrink)
Are Confucian and Buddhist ethical views closer to Kantian, Consequentialist, or Virtue Ethical ones? And how can such comparisons shed light on the unique aspects of Confucian and Buddhist views? This essay (i) provides a historically grounded framework for distinguishing western views, (ii) identifies a series of questions that we can ask in order to clarify the philosophic accounts of ethical motivation embedded in the Buddhist and Confucian traditions, and (iii) then critiques Lee Ming-huei’s claim that Confucianism is closer to (...) Kantianism than virtue ethics and Charles Goodman’s claim that Buddhism is closer to Consequentialism than virtue ethics. (shrink)
In this wise and creative book, Wright, Warren, and Snow propose a path-breaking interdisciplinary research program that promises to ground a mature science of moral virtue. Their theoretical framework and ideas for measurement are designed to guide psychologists as they study the individual traits that people have, the ways that traits interact or conflict, and the ways they change over time. While lauding the authors’ impressive achievements, I criticize the contentious Aristotelian assumptions they build into their program. I argue that (...) the science of virtue will be better served if researchers restrict themselves to more neutral assumptions and convert philosophically contentious views into competing empirical hypotheses. (shrink)
Although fairness is a key moral trait, limited research focuses on participants' observed fairness behavior because moral traits are generally measured through self-report. This experiment focused on day-to-day interpersonal fairness rather than impersonal justice, and fairness was assessed as observed behavior. The experiment investigated whether a self-reported fairness trait would moderate a situational influence on observed fairness behavior, such that individuals with a stronger fairness trait would be less affected by a situational influence than those with a weaker fairness trait. (...) We used an iterated resource game in which participants could withdraw resources as they chose, and we manipulated the number of resources bogus players withdrew. The number of resources participants withdrew was the behavioral measure of fairness. Results confirmed the expected moderation of the unfairness manipulation by a fairness trait on observed behavior. Those reporting a stronger fairness trait were unaffected by the manipulation, whereas those reporting a weaker fairness trait were more strongly influenced. (shrink)
Building on work by Steve Darwall, I argue that standard virtue ethical accounts of moral motivation are defective because they don't include accounts of social morality. I then propose a virtue ethical account of social morality, and respond to one of Darwall's core objections to the coherence of any such (non-Kantian) account.
This paper defends a new, role-differentiated account of the virtues of compassion. My main thesis is that in order to understand compassion’s value and advance debate about its ethical importance we need to recognize that the virtue of compassion involves substantively different dispositions and attitudes in different spheres of life – for example in our personal, professional, and civic lives. In each sphere, compassion is an apt and distinctive form of good-willed responsiveness to the value of living beings and their (...) characteristic struggles to live good lives, but the relevant forms of good-willed responsiveness vary because in different contexts there are different types of living beings involved and different relations between the compassionate person and the being to whom she is compassionate. My specific focus is on compassion in human relations; I argue that, in different role and relationship contexts, the virtues of compassion involve different forms of good-willed responsiveness to human struggles to live well. In developing my account I critically engage with the emotion-focused accounts defended by Martha Nussbaum and Roger Crisp and explain how my more plausible account can shed light on the nature and value of compassion for oneself. (shrink)
This paper concerns the central virtue ethical thesis that the ethical quality of an agent's actions is a function of her dispositional character. Skeptics have rightly urged us to distinguish between an agent's particular intentions or occurrant motives and dispositional facts about her character, but they falsely contend that if we are attentive to this distinction, then we will see that the virtue ethical thesis is false. In this paper I present a new interpretation and defense of the virtue ethical (...) thesis and show how to rebuff the skeptical attacks advanced by Thomas Hurka, Julia Markovits, and Roger Crisp. The key, I contend, is for virtue ethicists to adopt an embodied value conception of character instead of the aretaic trait conception suggested by Aristotle. (shrink)
In the first controlled, non-self-report studies to show an influence of university-level ethical instruction on everyday behavior, Schwitzgebel et al. and Jalil et al. found that students purchase less meat after exposure to material on the ethics of eating meat. We sought to extend and conceptually replicate this research. Seven hundred thirty students in three large philosophy classes read James Rachels’ “Basic Argument for Vegetarianism”, followed by 50-min small-group discussions. Half also viewed a vegetarianism advocacy video containing factory farm footage. (...) A few days after instruction, 54% of students agreed that “eating the meat of factory farmed animals is unethical”, compared to 37% before instruction, with no difference between the film and non-film conditions. Also, 39% of students anonymously pledged to avoid eating factory farmed meat for 24 h, again with no statistically detectable difference between conditions. Finally, we obtained 2828 campus food purchase receipts for 113 of the enrolled students who used their Student ID cards for purchases on campus, which we compared with 5033 purchases from a group of 226 students who did not receive the instruction. Meat purchases remained constant in the comparison group and declined among the students exposed to the material, falling from 30% to 23% of purchases overall and from 51% to 42% of purchases of $4.99 or more, with the effect possibly larger in the film condition. (shrink)
This article discusses the vice of self-centeredness, argues that it inhibits our ability to treat humanity as an end in itself, and that Kantian moral theory cannot account for this fact. After in this way arguing that Kantian theory fails to provide a fully adequate account of agents who live up to the formula of humanity, I discuss Buddhist resources for developing a better account.
After distinguishing three conceptions of virtue and its impact on ordinary attachments to external goods such as social status, power, friends, and wealth, this paper argues that the Confucian Analects is most charitably interpreted as endorsing the wholehearted internalization conception, on which virtue reforms but does not completely extinguish ordinary attachments to external goods. I begin by building on Amy Olberding’s attack on the extinguishing attachments conception, but go on to criticize her alternative, resolute sacrifice conception, on which the virtuous (...) retain their ordinary attachments to external goods but are able to master them and willingly settle for virtue. I argue that we should reject this view because, unlike the wholehearted internalization conception, it cannot capture the facts that virtue silences or attenuates attachment to viciously obtained external goods and that virtue grounds positive emotional and cognitive self-assessments that are incompatible with some ordinary attachments to external goods. (shrink)
Contemporary empirical research on virtues has been promising, but limited in depth and value by investigators’ reliance on global self-report questionnaires obtained at a single time-point. These questionnaires require respondents to summarize their trait features in very broad state-ments or focus narrowly on specific behaviors. Properly understood, virtues are partly constitut-ed by appropriate motivations in response to the real-world environment and integrated with the actor’s self—features that are not accessible using the predominant research methods. Our central aim is to deepen (...) virtue research with intensive longitudinal measurement of virtu-ous activity, which includes behavior, motivation, self-congruence, and situational factors. We will assess participants’ real-world activity four times per day over a 14-day period with respect to two pervasive virtues: fairness and kindness. We will then conduct narrative interviews with a subset of participants about virtue in their lives. We will assess motivation in three ways and the integration of the behavior with the self in three ways. These innovative methods will enable us to use cutting-edge psychological methods to investigate sophisticated philosophic questions about whether and how people's capacity for virtuous activity depends on their achieving self-integration - both across time and across personal contexts. (shrink)
In “Virtue Ethics and Deontic Constraints,” Mark LeBar claims to have discovered a two-level eudaimonist position that coheres with the claim that moral obligations are “real” and have “nonderivative normative authority.” In this article, I raise worries about how “real” second-personal reasons are on LeBar’s account, and then argue that second-personal reasons ramify up from the first to the second level in a way that LeBar denies. My argument is meant to encourage philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition to question the (...) existence of second-personal reasons of the sort Darwall elucidates. (shrink)
Adding to growing debate about the role of rebirth in Buddhist ethics, Dale S. Wright has recently advocated distinguishing and distancing the concept of karma from that of rebirth. In this paper, I evaluate Wright’s arguments in the light of Immanuel Kant’s views about supernatural beliefs. Although Kant is a paradigmatic Enlightenment critic of metaphysical speculation and traditional dogmas, he also offers thought-provoking practical arguments in favor of adopting supernatural (theistic) beliefs. In the light of Kant’s views, I argue we (...) can assuage most of Wright’s worries about the traditional concept of rebirth and better identify the outstanding philosophic questions on which the debate between traditionalists and reformers rests. I conclude by expressing doubts about whether the karma controversy can be settled at a general level; I argue that it can be adequately discussed and resolved only within particular Buddhist traditions. (shrink)
Summary of Nussbaum's book. Raises worries about the political neutrality of her psychoanalytic assumptions and about whether her compassion promoting policies can adequately mitigate problems like racism, selfishness, and partiality.
According to Aristotelian virtue ethicists, virtue is a great moral good that contributes to, but cannot be reduced to, an agent's welfare. In addition, they hold that the value of virtue is different from, and in some sense greater than, the agent-neutral intrinsic goodness that consequentialists attribute to states of affair. According to Thomas Hurka (1998, 2003, 2011), these fundamental Aristotelian views are indefensible. In this paper, I rebuff Hurka's skepticism and identify an Aristotelian view that stands fast in the (...) face of his criticisms. (shrink)
In “Practical Reason and the Possibility of Error," Douglas Lavin claims to have discovered a paradox deep in the heart of Christine Korsgaard’s neo-Kantian project. I argue that Lavin's criticism rests on a mistaken conception of ideal agency. In particular, he falsely assumes that since it is no accident that an ideal agent lives up to sound norms, it must have been impossible for her to deviate from them.
Review of Christian Miller's "Moral Character: An Empirical Theory." I question Miller's criteria for overall judgements about the vice and vice of people's character traits, and sketch an alternative framework.
It is my pleasure to comment on Aaron Stalnaker's ambitious and thought-provoking book Mastery, Dependence, and the Ethics of Authority. Early on Stalnaker tells us that the "central topic" of his study is "mastery or expertise at living well, as understood by the early Ru." In addition, the book aims to highlight the contemporary relevance of this ancient account of virtue and virtue acquisition. I will begin with a summary and overall assessment and then pose some questions.Stalnaker admits that ancient (...) Ru ideas and practices need to be updated and revised to fit our modern individualist world, but he also thinks they have something important to offer us. For example, while they need updating when it comes to... (shrink)
Bommarito raises many interesting questions about the nature of moral virtue and vice, and it establishes inner virtue as an interesting and worthwhile topic. His book will motivate readers to debate the merits of various general accounts and, even though it does not offer a compelling argument for the manifest care account, it establishes that account as an option worthy of further discussion and development. I want to emphasize that the book contains numerous interesting discussions of specific inner virtues and (...) vices, including ones commended by Buddhist and Confucian philosophers. Moral philosophers in general, and especially ones working on virtue theory, are sure to benefit from it. (shrink)
This essay provides a broad overview of Dame Iris Murdoch's work in moral philosophy. Although Murdoch is best known as a novelist, the focus here will be on her philosophic work. Throughout her life, Murdoch (1919–99) characterized herself as a Platonic realist and attacked other approaches to moral philosophy for obscuring our understanding of what she calls “the moral life” – roughly, our attempts to understand, evaluate, and improve ourselves and our lives together. While most philosophers are skeptical about her (...) positive views, many also believe we can enrich our moral theories by engaging with her work and attending to the aspects of ordinary moral life it highlights. (shrink)
Philosophers and psychologists come together to think systematically about the nature and value of guilt, looking at the biological origins and psychological nature of guilt, and then discussing the culturally enriched conceptions of this vital moral emotion.