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

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

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

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

4 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 “ Reasonable people disagree …”

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

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

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

16 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. Low Idealism High Idealism

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 Low Idealism High Idealism High Relativism Low Relativism Situationist AbsolutistExceptionist Subjectivist

18 Four Ethical Ideologies Subjectivist Situationist ExceptionistAbsolutist Idealism Relativism Low High Appraisals based on personal values and perspective rather than universal principles Rejects moral rules; advocates individualistic analysis of each act in each situation 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

19 Do people with different moral philosophies “think about” morality differently? Studies of the “Moral mind” 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 Exc Sub Abs Sit Reaction Time

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 4.But absolutists certainly feel worse after acting immorally…. Self-ratings

25 5.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 Harm Recipr. IngroupHierar.Purity Kindness Fairness Self- sacrifice Respect Reverence

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

34 Moral debates in contemporary society Harm Recipr. IngroupHierar.Purity Liberals 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.

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

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

37 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 /a Haidt and his colleagues find some suggestive evidence of two clusters—is one of these idealism, the other relativism?

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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