Recently, many critics have argued that disgust is a morally harmful emotion, and that it should play no role in our moral and legal reasoning. Here we defend disgust as a morally beneficial moral capacity. We believe that a variety of liberal norms have been inappropriately imported into both moral psychology and ethical studies of disgust: disgust has been associated with conservative authors, values, value systems, and modes of moral reasoning that are seen as inferior to the values and moral (...) emotions that are endorsed by liberal critics. Here we argue that the meta-ethical assumptions employed by the critics of disgust are highly contentious and in some cases culture bound. Given this, we should avoid adopting simplified meta-ethical positions in experimental moral psychology, as these can skew the design and interpretation of experiments, and blind us to the potential value of moral disgust harnessed in the service of liberal ends. (shrink)
Intent and mitigating circumstances play a central role in moral and legal assessments in large-scale industrialized societies. Al- though these features of moral assessment are widely assumed to be universal, to date, they have only been studied in a narrow range of societies. We show that there is substantial cross-cultural variation among eight traditional small-scale societies (ranging from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to horticulturalist) and two Western societies (one urban, one rural) in the extent to which intent and mitigating circumstances influence (...) moral judgments. Although participants in all societies took such factors into account to some degree, they did so to very different extents, varying in both the types of considerations taken into account and the types of violations to which such considerations were applied. The particular patterns of assessment characteristic of large-scale industrialized societies may thus reflect relatively recently culturally evolved norms rather than inherent features of human moral judgment. (shrink)
Among naturalist philosophers, both defenders and opponents of moral relativism argue that prescriptive moral theories (or normative theories) should be constrained by empirical findings about human psychology. Empiricists have asked if people are or can be moral relativists, and what effect being a moral relativist can have on an individual’s moral functioning. This research is underutilized in philosophers’ normative theories of relativism; at the same time, the empirical work, while useful, is conceptually disjointed. Our goal is to integrate philosophical and (...) empirical work on constraints on normative relativism. First, we present a working definition of moral relativism. Second, we outline naturalist versions of normative relativism, and third, we highlight the empirical constraints in this reasoning. Fourth, we discuss recent studies in moral psychology that are relevant for the philosophy of moral relativism. We assess here what conclusions for moral relativism can and cannot be drawn from experimental studies. Finally, we suggest how moral philosophers and moral psychologists can collaborate on the topic of moral relativism in the future. (shrink)
The perceived support of supernatural agents has been historically, ethnographically, and theoretically linked with confidence in engaging in violent intergroup conflict. However, scant experimental investigations of such links have been reported to date, and the extant evidence derives largely from indirect laboratory methods of limited ecological validity. Here, we experimentally tested the hypothesis that perceived supernatural aid would heighten inclinations toward coalitional aggression using a realistic simulated coalitional combat paradigm: competitive team paintball. In a between-subjects design, US paintball players recruited (...) for the study were experimentally primed with thoughts of supernatural support using a guided visualization exercise analogous to prayer, or with a control visualization of a nature scene. The participants then competed in a team paintball battle game modeled after “Capture the Flag.” Immediately before and after the battle, participants completed surveys assessing confidence in their coalitional and personal battle performance. Participants assessed their coalition’s prospects of victory and performance more positively after visualizing supernatural aid. Participants primed with supernatural support also reported inflated assessments of their own performance. Importantly, however, covarying increases in assessments of their overall coalition’s performance accounted for the latter effect. This study provided support for the hypothesis that perceived supernatural support can heighten both prospective confidence in coalitional victory and retrospective confidence in the combat performance of one’s team, while highlighting the role of competitive play in evoking the coalitional psychology of intergroup conflict. These results accord with and extend convergent prior findings derived from laboratory paradigms far removed from the experience of combat. Accordingly, the field study approach utilized here shows promise as a method for investigating coalitional battle dynamics in a realistic, experientially immersive manner. (shrink)
Certain researchers in the field of moral psychology, following Turiel (1983), argue that children and adults in different cultures make a distinction between moral and conventional transgressions. One interpretation of the theory holds that moral transgressions elicit a signature moral response pattern while conventional transgressions elicit a signature conventional response pattern (e.g., Kelly et al. 2007). Four dimensions distinguish the moral response pattern from the conventional response pattern (e.g., Nichols 2004). 1. HARM/JUSTICE/RIGHTS – Subjects justify the wrongness of moral transgressions (...) by stating that they involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. Conventional transgressions do not involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. 2. AUTHORITY – Subjects judge moral transgressions as wrong independent of structures of authority while the wrongness of conventional transgressions can be changed by an authority. 3. GENERALIZABILITY – Subjects judge moral transgressions as generalizably wrong, i.e., independent of time and place, while conventional transgressions’ wrongness depends on time and place. 4. SERIOUSNESS – Subjects judge moral transgressions as more seriously wrong than conventional transgressions. Others have criticized this view for a diversity of reasons. Relevant for our purposes is that, first, there appear to be cultural differences in what constitutes a moral transgression (e.g., Haidt et al. 1993) and second, it is unclear what the exact hypotheses are, surrounding this supposed moral/conventional distinction (e.g., Stich et al. 2009). I will present planned and ongoing experimental research that investigates two specific problems we encountered in the moral-conventional literature. First of all, we cannot draw reliable conclusions from previous work about the generalizability of the wrongness of different kinds of transgressions. In previous experiments, differences in time and place are often but not always confounded with a variety of other differences. For example, Huebner et al. (2010) ask participants if the depicted act would be OK for someone who lived elsewhere where everyone else did this. Moreover, when varying time and/or place, participants are likely to assume that other things differ as well. In our study, we vary time and/or place in a variety of scenarios in order to investigate what assumptions participants make when confronted with the generalizability question. Second, it is an open question as to what extent any transgression will universally elicit one of the two signature response patterns. In our study, we make use of existing differences in participants’ value hierarchy to test this. For one and the same scenario, we compare the response of participants for whom authority is an important value with the results of participants for whom authority is not an important value, in order to see if there are differences in the two groups’ response patterns. References: Haidt J., Koller S. & Dias M. 1993. Affect, culture and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:613-628. Huebner B., Lee, J.L. & Hauser, M.D. 2010. The Moral-Conventional Distinction in Mature Moral Competence. Journal of Cognition and Culture 10: 1-26. Kelly D., Stich S., Haley K.J., Eng S.J. & Fessler D.M.T. 2007. Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction. Mind & Language 22:117-131. Nichols S. 2004. Sentimental Rules: on the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment. Oxford University Press. Stich S., Fessler, D.M.T. & Kelly D. 2009. On the Morality of Harm: A response to Sousa, Holbrook and Piazza. Cognition 113:93-97. Turiel E. 1983. The Development of Social Knowledge. Morality & Convention. Cambridge University Press. (shrink)
Market models are indeed indispensable to understanding the evolution of cooperation and its emotional substrates. Unfortunately, Baumard et al. eschew market thinking in stressing the supposed invariance of moral/cooperative behavior across circumstances. To the contrary, humans display contingent morality/cooperation, and these shifts are best accounted for by market models of partner choice for mutually beneficial collaboration.
There is a widespread conviction that people distinguish two kinds of acts: on the one hand, acts that are generalisably wrong because they go against universal principles of harm, justice, or rights; on the other hand, acts that are variably right or wrong depending on the social context. In this paper we criticise existing methods that measure generalisability. We report new findings indicating that a modification of generalisability measures is in order. We discuss our findings in light of recent criticisms (...) of moral/conventional research. (shrink)
Elqayam & Evans suggest descriptivism as a way to avoid fallacies and research biases. We argue, first, that descriptive and prescriptive theories might be better off with a closer interaction between and Moreover, while we acknowledge the problematic nature of the discussed fallacies and biases, important aspects of research would be lost through a broad application of descriptivism.
Natural experiments wherein preferred marriage partners are co-reared play a central role in testing the Westermarck hypothesis. This paper reviews two such hitherto largely neglected experiments. The case of the Karo Batak is outlined in hopes that other scholars will procure additional information; the case of the Oneida community is examined in detail. Genealogical records reveal that, despite practicing communal child-rearing, marriages did take place within Oneida. However, when records are compared with first-person accounts, it becomes clear that, owing to (...) age- and gender-segregating practices, most endogamously marrying individuals probably did not share a history of extensive propinquity. (shrink)
Stigmata, wounds resembling those of Christ, have been reported since the 13th century. The wounds typically appear in association with visions following prolonged fasting. This paper argues that self-starvation holds the key to understanding this unique event. Stigmata may result from self-mutilation occurring during dissociation, phenomena precipitated in part by dietary constriction. Psychophysiological mechanisms produced by natural selection adjust the salience of risk in light of current resource abundance. As a result, artificial dietary constriction results in indifference to harm. A (...) variety of data links dramatic dietary constriction, reduced serotonergic functioning, altered states of consciousness, and self-injurious behavior. Catholic representations of Christ's crucifixion provide a cultural context that both motivates and lends meaning to the experiences of individuals whose predispositions and life histories increase the likelihood of dietary constriction, dissociation, and self-mutilation. Examining this case raises interesting questions about both the evolutionary and the cultural grounds for defining individual psychopathology. (shrink)
If rituals persist in part because of their memory-taxing attributes, from whence do they arise? I suggest that magical practices form the core of rituals, and that many such practices derive from learned pseudo-causal associations. Spurious associations are likely to be acquired during problem-solving under conditions of ambiguity and danger, and are often a consequence of imitative social learning. (Published Online February 8 2007).
Claims regarding negative strong reciprocity do indeed rest on experiments lacking established external validity, often without even a small Guala's review should prompt strong reciprocity proponents to extend the real-world validity of their work, exploring the preferences participants bring to experiments. That said, Guala's approach fails to differentiate among group selection approaches and glosses over cross-cultural variability.
Elqayam & Evans (E&E) suggest descriptivism as a way to avoid fallacies and research biases. We argue, first, that descriptive and prescriptive theories might be better off with a closer interaction between and Moreover, while we acknowledge the problematic nature of the discussed fallacies and biases, important aspects of research would be lost through a broad application of descriptivism.
In addition to questions of the representativeness of Western, educated samples vis-à-vis the rest of humanity, the prevailing practice of studying individuals who are culturally similar to the investigator entails the problem that key features of the phenomena under investigation may often go unrecognized. This will occur when investigators implicitly rely on folk models that they share with their participants.
We question whether the postulated revenge and forgiveness systems constitute true adaptations. Revenge and forgiveness are the products of multiple motivational systems and capacities, many of which did not exclusively evolve to support deterrence. Anger is more aptly construed as an adaptation that organizes independent mechanisms to deter transgressors than as the mediator of a distinct revenge adaptation.