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Don Forsyth University of Richmond

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1 Don Forsyth University of Richmond
Ethics Position Theory:   Morality, Politics, and Happiness Don Forsyth University of Richmond

2 Philosophical Study of Ethics
Normative ethics Philosophical analyses: Deontology Teleology Egoism Relativism Justice Right vs. wrong Good vs. evil What you should do? How should we make moral decisions?

3 Psychological Study of Ethics
Descriptive ethics Scientific analyses: Moral judgment Moral development Individual differences Cross-cultural variations Values, virtues, character How do people decide what is right vs. wrong? When (and why) do people act in ways that are morally questionable?

4 “Reasonable people disagree…”
Overview of one approach to individual differences in judgments about ethics Review, briefly, empirical findings, focusing on moral judgments Report of a preliminary study of relationship between moral thought and political orientation

5 Individual Differences in Morality
Should Heinz steal the drug? Should you push the switch to divert the trolley? Should psychologists help develop “interview” methods for the military? Is a lie, told for a “right purpose” (say, by a researcher) morally permissible? Should social psychologists fake their data? Are we morally obligated to care for others? Answers Depend on your Individual Moral Philosophy

6 Moral Philosophies Moral Position (or philosophy):
an individual’s organized set of beliefs and values pertaining to ethics individuals are intuitive “moral philosophers” Example: From the great philosopher, Calvin



9 Great variation, but 2 themes
Principle-based morality: Aren’t there rules about what’s right and wrong? Moral standards (e.g., lying, stealing) General principles (e.g., Golden Rule, Kant’s categorical imperative) Codes of ethics (e.g., Hippocratic Oath; Geneva Convention).

10 Second theme 2. Consequence-based morality: Shouldn’t we try to maximize happiness and minimize harm? Beneficence (doing good works that help others) Utilitarianism (e.g., Bentham’s greatest good for the greatest number ) Primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”)

11 First Theme: Principles
Universalism Relativism Follow the rules Stick to your principles Do what is right Don’t do what is wrong Tolerate differences Don’t expect others to act as you do Rules, and morality, change over time No rule is sacred

12 Second Theme: Consequences
Idealism Consequentialism Do no harm Promote others’ welfare Do not weigh ends against the means Trade-offs are unavoidable Weigh the good against the bad Calculate cost-benefit ratio and choose rationally

13 The Ethics Position Questionnaire
Measuring Relativism 1. Different types of moralities cannot be compared as to rightness. 2. What is ethical varies from one situation and society to another. 3. Whether a lie is judged to be moral or immoral depends upon the circumstances surrounding the action. These 2 themes, or dimensions, emerged across a number of studies of individual differences in moral judgment

14 The Ethics Position Questionnaire
Measuring Idealism 4. One should never psychologically or physically harm another person. 5. If an action could harm an innocent other, then it should not be done. 6. Deciding whether or not to perform an act by balancing the positive consequences of the act against the negative consequences of the act is immoral. The full question has 20 questions, rather than just these 6

15 Relativism 3 15 9.3 Low Relativism High Relativism Relativism: Some personal moral codes emphasize the importance of universal ethical rules; others do not endorse universal principles

16 Idealism 3 15 10.5 Low Idealism High Idealism Idealism: a fundamental concern for the welfare of others; some assume that we should avoid harming others, others assume harm will sometimes be necessary to produce good.

17 Dimensions vs. Types People vary from low to high in idealism and relativism Can also “type” people, as relatively high versus low If consider both dimensions, typing yields a four-fold classification High Relativism Situationist Subjectivist Low Idealism High Idealism Exceptionist Absolutist Low Relativism

18 Four Ethical Ideologies
High Subjectivist Situationist Appraisals based on personal values and perspective rather than universal principles Rejects moral rules; advocates individualistic analysis of each act in each situation Relativism Exceptionist Absolutist Moral absolutes guide judgments but pragmatically open to exceptions to these standards; utilitarian Assumes that the best possible outcome can always be achieved by following universal moral rules High Low Idealism

19 Studies of the “Moral mind”
Do people with different moral philosophies “think about” morality differently? 1. People differ in their conclusions about morality: their moral judgments. Absolutists harshest if principle violated Situationists sensitive to harm Subjectivists unpredictable Exceptionists lenient if justification

20 Example: Judgments of Research Procedures
How Unethical

21 2. People may differ in how they make their moral judgments
Some evidence suggests situationists process information in a more complex way than others (multiplicative combinatorial model rather than additive). Absolutists, if “cognitively busy,” process information more slowly

22 Abs Reaction Time Exc Sub Sit

23 3. People may differ in how they behave in morally charged settings.
Some evidence suggests judgments influence actions BUT: Moral words do not necessarily = moral deeds

24 But absolutists certainly feel worse after acting immorally….

25 Ethics positions across cultures
Using meta-analysis, we (Forsyth, O’Boyle, & McDaniel, 2008) explored average EPQ scores across various countries. Identified 139 samples of over 30,000 individuals.

26 Consistent relations with Hofstede’s cultural dimensions




30 Forsyth & O’Boyle (2013) found a relationship between a country’s ethics position and average levels of “happiness”.

31 How about politics? Are the differences between conservative and liberal views rooted in moral differences?

32 Jon Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory
Kindness Self- sacrifice Reverence Fairness Respect Harm Recipr. Ingroup Hierar. Purity

33 Moral debates in contemporary society
Conservatives and most traditional societies (esp. agricultural) build on all five foundations, create a broad morality. Regulates most action; values tradition. Moral debates in contemporary society Conservatives Harm Recipr. Ingroup Hierar. Purity

34 Moral debates in contemporary society
Liberals and more mobile, mercantile societies hyper-value harm and reciprocity; distrust and overrule hierarchy, purity, and sometimes in-group. Create a narrow morality, values autonomy, rights, and self-expression. Moral debates in contemporary society Liberals Harm Recipr. Ingroup Hierar. Purity

35 Example: Health Care Reform
Unfair Outsiders Served Profession Harmed Unhealthy Equal rights Compassion Harm Recipr. Ingroup Hierar. Purity

36 Example: Marriage Rights for Gays
Heterosexism Against God + tradition Sin, perversion Equal rights Compassion Harm Recipr. Ingroup Hierar. Purity

37 Haidt and his colleagues find some suggestive evidence of two clusters—is one of these idealism, the other relativism? Source: Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), doi: /a

38 Internet-based survey completed the EPQ and the MFQ
9128 participants (fewer for the political attitudes measures) 130 countries a bit “liberal” of a sample



41 Liberal ----- Conservative Values

42 Implications and Future Directions
In Sum Personal Moral Philosophies Relativism Universalism Idealism Consequentialism

43 Thank you!


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