"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire

Friday, October 31, 2014

Addressing the empathy deficit: beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging.

Addressing the empathy deficit: Beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging.
Schumann, Karina; Zaki, Jamil; Dweck, Carol S.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 107(3), Sep 2014, 475-493.


Empathy is often thought to occur automatically. Yet, empathy frequently breaks down when it is difficult or distressing to relate to people in need, suggesting that empathy is often not felt reflexively. Indeed, the United States as a whole is said to be displaying an empathy deficit. When and why does empathy break down, and what predicts whether people will exert effort to experience empathy in challenging contexts? Across 7 studies, we found that people who held a malleable mindset about empathy (believing empathy can be developed) expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who held a fixed theory (believing empathy cannot be developed). Specifically, a malleable theory of empathy--whether measured or experimentally induced--promoted (a) more self-reported effort to feel empathy when it is challenging (Study 1); (b) more empathically effortful responses to a person with conflicting views on personally important sociopolitical issues (Studies 2-4); (c) more time spent listening to the emotional personal story of a racial outgroup member (Study 5); and (d) greater willingness to help cancer patients in effortful, face-to-face ways (Study 6). Study 7 revealed a possible reason for this greater empathic effort in challenging contexts: a stronger interest in improving one's empathy. Together, these data suggest that people's mindsets powerfully affect whether they exert effort to empathize when it is needed most, and these data may represent a point of leverage in increasing empathic behaviors on a broad scale.


Empathy exerts a powerful influence on how people treat one another, and high levels of empathy promote positive outcomes for both the empathy target and empathizer (e.g., Baron-Cohen, 1994; Batson et al., 1988; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). However, people might often not experience these benefits of empathy when it is challenging to empathize with others. Our research demonstrates that one way to respond to these empathic challenges is to expend additional effort to feel empathy. It highlights the importance of people's mindsets of empathy in predicting this empathic effort, and thus identifies a new and potentially important way of addressing the empathy deficit.

The entire article is here.

The Neuroscience of Intergroup Relations: An Integrative Review

By Mina Cikara & Jay J. Van Bavel
Perspectives on Psychological Science
May 2014 vol. 9 no. 3 245-274


We review emerging research on the psychological and biological factors that underlie social group formation, cooperation, and conflict in humans. Our aim is to integrate the intergroup neuroscience literature with classic theories of group processes and intergroup relations in an effort to move beyond merely describing the effects of specific social out-groups on the brain and behavior. Instead, we emphasize the underlying psychological processes that govern intergroup interactions more generally: forming and updating our representations of “us” and “them” via social identification and functional relations between groups. This approach highlights the dynamic nature of social identity and the context-dependent nature of intergroup relations. We argue that this theoretical integration can help reconcile seemingly discrepant findings in the literature, provide organizational principles for understanding the core elements of intergroup dynamics, and highlight several exciting directions for future research at the interface of intergroup relations and neuroscience.


People experience pleasure when they have the ability to punish or watch the punishment of a disliked or competitive other. When a partner behaved unfairly (i.e., defected) in a game, the dorsal striatum—a region implicated in action selection on the basis of reward value—was relatively more active when people administered punishments that reduced defectors’ payoffs, as compared with punishments that did not (De Quervain et al., 2004). Moreover, subjects with stronger activations in the dorsal striatum were willing to incur greater costs in order to punish. Other work has found that seeing the pain of a cooperative confederate activated a network of brain regions associated with firsthand experience of pain; however, seeing the pain of a competitive confederate activated ventral striatum. Further, ventral striatum activation correlated with an expressed desire for revenge (Singer et al., 2006). Thus, in interpersonal contexts, competition (even among strangers, for low-stakes outcomes) fundamentally changes people’s social preferences and corresponding neural responses.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Study Says Social Media Schadenfreude Is Real

By Laura Bradley
Originally published October 6, 2014

If you catch yourself using Facebook to check up on every burnout from high school when you’re down, know this: You’re not alone.

A new study from Ohio State University suggests that when people aren’t feeling their best, they tend to be more interested in social media profiles of those they consider less attractive, successful, or just generally well-off. In other words, a study finally corroborates what we all know to be true: Looking at a friend’s engagement photos while on a Friday night date with Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s is just not appealing.

The entire story is here.

Are You A Hysteric, Or A Sociopath? Welcome to the Privacy Debate

By Irina Raicu
Ethical Issues in the Online World
Originally posted October 7, 2014

Whether you’re reading about the latest data-mining class action lawsuit through your Google Glass or relaxing on your front porch waving at your neighbors, you probably know that there’s a big debate in this country about privacy.  Some say privacy is important. Some say it’s dead.  Some say kids want it, or not. Some say it’s a relatively recent phenomenon whose time, by the way, has passed—a slightly opaque blip in our history as social animals. Others say it’s a human right without which many other rights would be impossible to maintain.

It’s a much-needed discussion—but one in which the tone is often not conducive to persuasion, and therefore progress.  If you think concerns about information privacy are overrated and might become an obstacle to the development of useful tools and services, you may hear yourself described as a [Silicon Valley] sociopath or a heartless profiteer.  If you believe that privacy is important and deserves protection, you may be called a “privacy hysteric.”

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beliefs About God and Mental Health Among American Adults

Nava R. Silton, Kevin J. Flannelly, Kathleen Galek, Christopher G. Ellison
Journal of Religion and Health
October 2014, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1285-1296


This study examines the association between beliefs about God and psychiatric symptoms in the context of Evolutionary Threat Assessment System Theory, using data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults (N = 1,426). Three beliefs about God were tested separately in ordinary least squares regression models to predict five classes of psychiatric symptoms: general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Belief in a punitive God was positively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, while belief in a benevolent God was negatively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, controlling for demographic characteristics, religiousness, and strength of belief in God. Belief in a deistic God and one’s overall belief in God were not significantly related to any psychiatric symptoms.

The entire article is here.

Cooperation shapes abilities of the human brain

Swiss National Science Foundation
Originally published August 30, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

For several decades many characteristics originally classed as being specific to humans have been seen in a new light. This exclusive interpretation has given way to the view that our ability to plan and remember does not differentiate us from other great apes. In fact, the opposite is true. These cognitive abilities, along with our use of tools, link us to our closest biological relatives. And yet there is a substantial difference to which reference is frequently made when it comes to explaining the unique nature of humans’ cognitive and cultural skills.

The entire pressor is here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

School Psychology in Rural Contexts: Ethical, Professional, and Legal Issues

Lynn M. Edwards, Amanda L. Sullivan
Journal of Applied School Psychology 
Vol. 30, Iss. 3, 2014


Delivering psychological services in rural communities presents a number of unique challenges for practitioners relative to their peers in urban and suburban communities. In this article, the authors describe the current context of rural schools and examine the ethical and legal issues school psychologists may face when practicing in rural educational settings. They link these issues to the field's ethical guidelines and educational policy and offer practical recommendations for resolving potential dilemmas. Implications for practice, training, and research are discussed.


As in any professional context, it is important that rural practitioners engage in ongoing self-reflection of their competence, well-being, and ethical conduct. Our focus was on professional issues for rural practitioners, but these issues apply to small communities generally, including those located within more densely populated locations where similar social dynamics operate (e.g., ethnicity/cultural communities, a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, universities, or military communities; Schank et al., 2010). For school psychologists practicing outside of schools (e.g., private practice), other ethical issues related to the provision of mental health services and social justice may be more salient than the topics addressed herein (see Bradley, Werth, & Hastings, 2012, for discussion). In general, practicing in tightly bound communities requires recognition and responsiveness to the distinct professional context created by social and geographic parameters in order to ensure the provision of ethical, effective services.

The entire article is here.

Punishment or Child Abuse?

By Michael Eric Dyson
New York Times - Opinion pages
September 17, 2014

THE indictment last week of the N.F.L. player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has set into relief the harmful disciplinary practices of some black families. Mr. Peterson used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum. This is child abuse dressed up as acceptable punishment.

While 70 percent of Americans approve of corporal punishment, black Americans have a distinct history with the subject. Beating children has been a depressingly familiar habit in black families since our arrival in the New World. As the black psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote in “Black Rage,” their 1968 examination of psychological black life: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Drug Addiction Seen as 'Moral Failing,' Survey Finds

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter
Originally posted on October 3, 2014

People with drug addiction are much more likely to face stigma than those with mental illness because they're seen as having a "moral failing," according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 700 people across the United States also found that the public is less likely to approve of insurance, housing and employment policies meant to help people with drug addiction.

The study results suggest that many people consider drug addiction a personal vice rather than a treatable medical condition, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers.

The entire article is here.

Ayn Rand's Continued Influence

Ayn Rand's Continued Influence Adds a Bizarre Twist to Conservative Politics

By Evan McMurry
Originally posted on October 3, 2014

On Last Week Tonight, perhaps to balance out his less-than-friendly main segment on Obama’s drone policies, John Oliver asked a question that has bothered people about Ayn Rand since she first emerged in the middle of the twentieth century: why are people into this dreck?

Rand was the founder of Objectivism, a sub-Nietzschean philosophy that glorified selfishness and denigrated altruism, aggressively detailed in two novels bearing both the weight and prose style of a cement brick. Not surprisingly, this organized atavism never gained serious purchase: during her lifetime she was rejected by everyone from literary critics to philosophy professors to Frank Lloyd Wright, who didn’t appreciate her cribbing protagonist Howard Roark from his biography.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Internet, Suicide, & How Sites Like PostSecret Can Help

Studies show the Internet fails suicidal users. PostSecret shows how to help.
by Jennifer Golbeck, Ph.D.
Psychology Today Blog
Originally published October 4, 2014

People suffering from depression can feel isolated, lonely, and in need of help. As with so many other areas, the Internet is a natural place to turn for support. But, as with so many other things, the Internet is not always safe.

William Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse who lives in Minnesota, was convicted last month for assisting the suicide of a British man online. Melchert-Dinkel spent his time visiting suicide-related internet forums where he posed as a suicidal female nurse. He would offer people step-by-step instructions on how to kill themselves (usually by hanging), and in ten cases, he entered into suicide pacts with other forum members. He believes five of those people went through with the suicides. In some cases, he may have watched people commit suicide over a webcam.

The entire blog post is here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology

Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright (eds.), Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology, Bloomsbury, 2014, 256pp., $112.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781472509383.

Reviewed by Jesse S. Summers, Duke University
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

The distinction between moral psychology and moral philosophy has never been a clear one. Observations about what humans are like plays an indispensable role in understanding our moral obligations and virtues, and great swaths of moral philosophy until the 19th century are psychology avant la lettre, empirical speculations about how we form moral judgments, about mental faculties and rationality, pleasure, pain, and character. This relationship between philosophy and psychology becomes both opaque and strained once experimental psychology develops its own academic discipline. Nevertheless, many contemporary moral debates -- like those surrounding moral character and moral motivation -- are clearly aware of and are sometimes in response to findings of empirical psychology. Experimental psychology is again leaching into the philosophical water.

It is a credit to Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright that the research they assembled adds further nutrients to the soil. This collection is not a survey of empirical moral psychology. It instead pushes into debates whose philosophical implications have yet to be widely considered. As a result, the collection's primary audience is anyone already interested in moral psychology understood broadly, and it will need no further recommendation to those with empirical interests in the topic.

The entire book review is here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Can Our Brains Handle the Information Age?

An Interview with Daniel Levitin
By Bret S. Stetka
Originally posted September 24, 2014

In his new book, The Organized Mind, best-selling author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, PhD, discusses our brain's ability—or lack thereof—to process the dizzying flow of information brought on us by the digital age. Dr Levitin also suggests numerous ways of organizing mass information to make it more manageable. Medscape recently spoke with Dr Levitin about the neuroscience of information processing as well as approaches potentially useful to overworked clinicians.

The Fear of Information

Medscape: Your new book discusses how throughout history humans have been suspicious of increased access to information, from the printing press back to the first Sumerian writings. But I think most would agree that these were positive advancements. Do you think the current digital age weariness expressed by many is more of the same and that today's rapid technological progression will end up being a positive development for humanity? Or has the volume of data out there just gotten too big for the human brain to handle?

Dr Levitin: I have two minds about this. On one hand, there is this "same as it ever was" kind of complaint cycle. Seneca complained at the time of the ancient Greeks about the invention of writing—that it was going to weaken men's minds because they would no longer engage in thoughtful conversation. You couldn't interrogate the person who was telling you something, meaning that lies could be promulgated more easily and passed from generation to generation.


If we look back at our evolutionary history, the amount of information that existed in the world just a few thousand years ago was really just a small percentage of what exists now. By some estimates, the amount of scientific and medical information produced in the last 25 years is equal to all of the information in all of human history up to that point.

The human brain can really only attend to a few things at once, so I think we are reaching a point where we have to figure out how to filter information so that we can use it more intelligently and not be distracted by irrelevant information. Studies show that people who are given more information in certain situations tend to make poorer decisions because they become distracted or overwhelmed by the irrelevant information.

The entire interview is here.

When do people cooperate? The neuroeconomics of prosocial decision making.

Declerck CH, Boone C, Emonds G. When do people cooperate? The neuroeconomics
of prosocial decision making. Brain Cogn. 2013 Feb;81(1):95-117. 
doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2012.09.009.


Understanding the roots of prosocial behavior is an interdisciplinary research endeavor that has generated an abundance of empirical data across many disciplines. This review integrates research findings from different fields into a novel theoretical framework that can account for when prosocial behavior is likely to occur. Specifically, we propose that the motivation to cooperate (or not), generated by the reward system in the brain (extending from the striatum to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex), is modulated by two neural networks: a cognitive control system (centered on the lateral prefrontal cortex) that processes extrinsic cooperative incentives, and/or a social cognition system (including the temporo-parietal junction, the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala) that processes trust and/or threat signals. The independent modulatory influence of incentives and trust on the decision to cooperate is substantiated by a growing body of neuroimaging data and reconciles the apparent paradox between economic versus social rationality in the literature, suggesting that we are in fact wired for both. Furthermore, the theoretical framework can account for substantial behavioral heterogeneity in prosocial behavior. Based on the existing data, we postulate that self-regarding individuals (who are more likely to adopt an economically rational strategy) are more responsive to extrinsic cooperative incentives and therefore rely relatively more on cognitive control to make (un)cooperative decisions, whereas other-regarding individuals (who are more likely to adopt a socially rational strategy) are more sensitive to trust signals to avoid betrayal and recruit relatively more brain activity in the social cognition system. Several additional hypotheses with respect to the neural roots of social preferences are derived from the model and suggested for future research.


6. Concluding remarks and directions for future research
Prosociality includes a wide array of behavior, including mutual cooperation, pure altruism, and the costly act of punishing norm violators. Neurologically, these behaviors are all motivated by neural networks dedicated to reward, indicating that prosocial acts (such as cooperating in a social dilemma) are carried out because they were desired and feel good. However, the underlying reasons for the pleasant feelings associated with cooperative behavior may differ. First, cooperation may be valued because of accruing benefits, making it economically rational. This route to cooperation is made possible through brain regions in the lateral frontal cortex that generate cognitive control and process the presence or absence of extrinsic cooperative incentives. Second, consistent with proponents of social rationality, cooperation can also occur when people expect to experience reward through a “warm glow of giving.” Such intrinsically motivated cooperation yields collective benefits from which all group members may eventually benefit, but it can only be sustained when it exists in concert with a mechanism to detect and deter free-riding. Hence socially rational cooperation is facilitated by a neural network dedicated to social cognition that processes trust signals.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Case Against Empathy

By Derek Beres
Originally posted September 29, 2014

It’s hard to imagine empathy being anything but beneficial. It has become one of the most championed mental states in the neuroscience age: the ability to feel what someone else is feeling and, if all goes well, extend a hand altruistically or compassionately.

This is the clean-cut version of empathy. I feel what you’re feeling; I get it. Thinkers call for empathy when facing international crises, such as continual turmoil in Gaza: if Israelis could just feel what it’s like to be a Palestinian mother, if the Hamas leader could just understand what a sympathetic Jewish father goes through, none of this would be happening.

Yale University professor of psychology and cognitive science Paul Bloom thinks a lot gray resides in such a black-and-white definition, and that there is more danger than good adopting such a simplistic view of empathy. He argues exactly this point in the latest issue of Boston Review.

The entire article is here.

God, Darwin and My College Biology Class

By David P. Barash
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally published September 27, 2014

EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair?

By Lauren Weber and Elizabeth Dwoskin
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted September 29, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Workplace personality testing has become a $500 million-a-year business and is growing by 10% to 15% a year, estimates Hogan Assessment Systems Inc., a Tulsa, Okla., testing company. Xerox Corp. says tests have reduced attrition in high-turnover customer-service jobs by 20 or more days in some cases. Dialog Direct, of Highland Park, Mich., says the testing software allows the call-center operator and manager to predict with 80% accuracy which employees will get the highest performance scores.

But the rise of personality tests has sparked growing scrutiny of their effectiveness and fairness. Some companies have scaled back, changed or eliminated their use of such tests. Civil-rights groups long focused on overt forms of workplace discrimination claim that data-driven algorithms powering the tests could make jobs harder to get for people who don't conform to rigid formulas.

The entire article is here.

Psychologist Whistleblower Threatened

By Sophie Borland
The Daily Mail Online
Originally posted September 25, 2014

A whistleblower says her career was destroyed by NHS managers after warning about how vulnerable patients were coming to severe harm.

Dr Hayley Dare, 42, a psychologist,even claims to have received a poison-pen letter from one of her bosses saying her children would suffer if she lost her job which also threatened: ‘You cannot win, you cannot beat us’.

She said conditions were so appalling at the mental health unit where she worked that one 72-year-old woman died after staff forgot about her.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

College Counseling Centers Turn to Teletherapy to Treat Students for Anxiety

By Jared Misner
Sunoikisis via the Chronicle of Higher Education
Posted September 26, 2014

At the University of Florida, students struggling with anxiety can visit its counseling center and, after an initial, in-person consultation with a counselor, can elect to start a seven-week program called Therapist Assisted Online. The program works like an online course, complete with videos and online activities. Once a week, students meet with their specific counselor, one on one, through a videoconference for 10 to 15 minutes to discuss their anxiety.

That means students visit the counseling center only once and can do the rest from the comfort of their dormitory room. “They like the idea of being at home,” Brian C. Ess, a counselor at Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center, says.

The entire article is here.

Please visit the Ethics and Psychology podcasts for Episodes 15 and 16, which addresses Ethics and Telepsychology.

Impressions of Misconduct: Graduate Students’ Perception of Faculty Ethical Violations in Scientist-Practitioner Clinical Psychology Programs

January, A. M., Meyerson, D. A., Reddy, L. F., Docherty, A. R., & Klonoff, E. A. (2014, August
25). Impressions of Misconduct: Graduate Students’ Perception of Faculty Ethical Violations
in Scientist-Practitioner Clinical Psychology Programs. Training and Education in Professional
Psychology. Advance online publication.



Ethical conduct is a foundational element of professional competence, yet very little is known about how graduate student trainees perceive ethical violations committed by clinical faculty. Thus, the current study attempted to explore how perceived faculty ethical violations might affect graduate students and the training environment. Of the 374 graduate students in scientist-practitioner clinical psychology programs surveyed, nearly a third (n  121, 32.4%) reported knowledge of unethical faculty behavior. Students perceived a wide range of faculty behaviors as unethical. Perception of unethical faculty behavior was associated with decreased confidence in department faculty and lower perceived program climate.  Implications of these findings are discussed and recommendations offered.

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rebooting Philosophy

By Luciano Floridi
Oxford University Press's Blog
Originally published July 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Philosophy is a bit like a computer with a memory leak. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, its very success slows it down. Philosophy begins to care more about philosophers’ questions than philosophical ones, consuming increasing amount of intellectual attention. Scholasticism is the ultimate freezing of the system, the equivalent of Windows’ “blue screen of death”; so many resources are devoted to internal issues that no external input can be processed anymore, and the system stops. The world may be undergoing a revolution, but the philosophical discourse remains detached and utterly oblivious. Time to reboot the system.

Philosophical “rebooting” moments are rare. They are usually prompted by major transformations in the surrounding reality.

The entire article is here.

Anonymous peer-review comments may spark legal battle

By Kelly Servick
Science Insider
Originally posted September 22, 2014

The power of anonymous comments—and the liability of those who make them—is at the heart of a possible legal battle embroiling PubPeer, an online forum launched in October 2012 for anonymous, post publication peer review. A researcher who claims that comments on PubPeer caused him to lose a tenured faculty job offer now intends to press legal charges against the person or people behind these posts—provided he can uncover their identities, his lawyer says.

The issue first came to light in August, when PubPeer’s (anonymous) moderators announced that the site had received a “legal threat.” Today, they revealed that the scientist involved is Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Sarkar, an author on more than 500 papers and principal investigator for more than $1,227,000 in active grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has, like many scientists, had his work scrutinized on PubPeer. More than 50 papers on which he is an author have received at least one comment from PubPeer users, many of whom point out potential inconsistencies in the papers’ figures, such as perceived similarities between images that are supposed to depict different experiments.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Accountability for Research Misconduct

By Zubin Master
Health Research, Research Ethics, Science Funding
Originally posted September 23, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

This case raises important questions about the responsibilities of research institutions to promote research integrity and to prevent research misconduct. Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiments and other social psychology research have taught us that ethical behavior is not only shaped by dispositional attribution (an internal moral character), but also by many situational (environmental) features. Similarly, our understanding of the cause of research misconduct is shifting away from the idea that this is just a problem of a few “bad apples” to a broader understanding of how the immense pressure to both publish and translate research findings into products, as well as poor institutional supports influence research misconduct.

This is not to excuse misbehaviour by researchers, but rather to shed light on the fact that institutions also bear moral responsibility for research misconduct. Thus far, institutions have taken few measures to promote research integrity and prevent research misconduct. Indeed, in many high profile cases of research misconduct, they remain virtually blameless.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Occupational Hazards of Working on Wall Street

By Michael Lewis
Bloomberg View
Originally posted on September 24, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Here’s a few that seem, just now, particularly relevant:

-- Anyone who works in finance will sense, at least at first, the pressure to pretend to know more than he does.

It’s not just that people who pick stocks, or predict the future price of oil and gold, or select targets for corporate acquisitions, or persuade happy, well-run private companies to go public don’t know what they are talking about: what they pretend to know is unknowable. Much of what Wall Street sells is less like engineering than like a forecasting service for a coin-flipping contest -- except that no one mistakes a coin-flipping contest for a game of skill. To succeed in this environment you must believe, or at least pretend to believe, that you are an expert in matters where no expertise is possible. I’m not sure it’s any easier to be a total fraud on Wall Street than in any other occupation, but on Wall Street you will be paid a lot more to forget your uneasy feelings.

The entire article is here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The intuitional problem of consciousness

By Mark O'Brien
Scientia Salon
Originally posted September 1, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

It would seem instead that consciousness must be a property of some kind. It is certainly true that physical properties are not usually exhibited by simulations. A simulation of a waterfall is not wet, a simulation of a fire is not hot, and a virtual black hole is not going to spaghettify [5] you any time soon. However I think that there are some properties which are not physical in this way, and these may be preserved in virtualisation. Orderliness, complexity, elegance and even intelligent, intentional behavior can be just as evident in simulations as they are in physical things. I propose that such properties be called abstract properties.

The entire article is here.

Doctrine of Double Effect

By Alison McIntyre
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Winter 2014

The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.


For example, a physician's justification for administering drugs to relieve a patient's pain while foreseeing the hastening of death as a side effect does not depend only on the fact that the physician does not intend to hasten death. After all, physicians are not permitted to relieve the pain of kidney stones or childbirth with potentially lethal doses of opiates simply because they foresee but do not intend the causing of death as a side effect! A variety of substantive medical and ethical judgments provide the justificatory context: the patient is terminally ill, there is an urgent need to relieve pain and suffering, death is imminent, and the patient or the patient's proxy consents. Note that this last constraint, the consent of the patient or the patient's proxy, is not naturally classified as a concern with proportionality, understood as the weighing of harms and benefits.

The entry entry is here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It’s All for Your Own Good

By Jeremy Waldron
The New York Book Review
Originally published on October 9, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Nudging is an attractive strategy. People are faced with choices all the time, from products to pensions, from vacations to voting, from requests for charity to ordering meals in a restaurant, and many of these choices have to be made quickly or life would be overwhelming. For most cases the sensible thing is not to agonize but to use a rule of thumb—a heuristic is the technical term—to make the decision quickly. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” “Choose a round number,” “Always order the special,” and “Vote the party line” are all heuristics. But the ones people use are good for some decisions and not others, and they have evolved over a series of past situations that may or may not resemble the important choices people currently face.

The entire article is here.

Should nutritional supplements and sports drinks companies sponsor sport? A short review of the ethical concerns

By Simon M. Outram and Bob Stewart
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102147


This paper proposes that the sponsorship of sport by nutritional supplements and sport drinks companies should be re-examined in the light of ethical concerns about the closeness of this relationship. A short overview is provided of the sponsorship of sport, arguing that ethical concerns about its appropriateness remain despite the imposition of severe restrictions on tobacco sponsorship. Further, the paper examines the main concerns about supplement use and sports drinks with respect to efficacy, health and the risks of doping. Particular consideration is given to the health implications of these concerns. It is suggested that they, of themselves, do not warrant the restriction of sponsorship by companies producing supplements and sports drinks. Nevertheless, it is argued that sports sponsorship does warrant further ethical examination—above and beyond that afforded to other sponsors of sport—as sport sponsorship is integral to the perceived need for such products. In conclusion, it is argued that sport may have found itself lending unwarranted credibility to products which would otherwise not necessarily be seen as beneficial for participation in sports and exercise or as inherently healthy products.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Friends or foes: Is empathy necessary for moral behavior?

Jean Decety and Jason M. Cowell
Perspectives on Psychological Science
2014, Vol. 9(5) 525 –537


In the past decade, a flurry of empirical and theoretical research on morality and empathy has taken place, and interest and usage in the media and the public arena have increased. At times, in both popular culture and academia, morality and empathy are used interchangeably, and quite often the latter is considered to play a foundational role for the former. In this article, we argue that although there is a relationship between morality and empathy, it is not as straightforward as apparent at first glance. Moreover, it is critical to distinguish among the different facets of empathy (emotional sharing, empathic concern, and perspective taking), as each uniquely influences moral cognition and predicts differential outcomes in moral behavior. Empirical evidence and theories from evolutionary biology as well as developmental, behavioral, and affective and social neuroscience are comprehensively integrated in support of this argument. The wealth of findings illustrates a complex and equivocal relationship between morality and empathy. The key to understanding such relations is to be more precise on the concepts being used and, perhaps, abandoning the muddy concept of empathy.


Is Empathy a Necessary Concept?

To wrap up on a provocative note, it may be advanta-geous in the future for scholars interested in the science of morality to refrain from using the catch-all term of empathy, which applies to a myriad of processes and phenomena and, as a result, yields confusion in both understanding and predictive ability. In both academic and applied domains—such medicine, ethics, law, and policy—empathy has become an enticing, but muddy, notion, potentially leading to misinterpretation. If ancient Greek philosophy has taught us anything, it is that when a concept is attributed with so many meanings, it is at risk for losing function.

The entire article is here.

Finding Risks, Not Answers, in Gene Tests

By Denise Grady and Andrew Pollack
The New York Times
Originally published September 22, 2014

Jennifer was 39 and perfectly healthy, but her grandmother had died young from breast cancer, so she decided to be tested for mutations in two genes known to increase risk for the disease.

When a genetic counselor offered additional tests for 20 other genes linked to various cancers, Jennifer said yes. The more information, the better, she thought.

The results, she said, were “surreal.” She did not have mutations in the breast cancer genes, but did have one linked to a high risk of stomach cancer. In people with a family history of the disease, that mutation is considered so risky that patients who are not even sick are often advised to have their stomachs removed. But no one knows what the finding might mean in someone like Jennifer, whose family has not had the disease.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is It Possible to Create an Anti-Love Drug?

By Maia Szalavitz
New York Magazine - Science of Us
Originally posted May 19, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

A drug that precisely targets only one specific relationship for destruction may be decades away, but drugs that interfere with specific aspects of love like sexual desire are already here. And as scientists begin to tease out the chemical chronology and specific brain systems involved in love, they are already investigating how existing medications taken in carefully timed ways could, for example, prevent the "bonding hormone" oxytocin from initiating or sustaining a relationship.

This could forever change what it means to sever romantic ties. And the ramifications go beyond “Please let me forget”–type situations à la Eternal Sunshine. Anti-love drugs could also provide an intriguing new “treatment” for those trapped in abusive relationships.

The entire article is here.

The Moral Instinct

By Steven Pinker
The New York Times
Originally posted January 13, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

The Moralization Switch

The starting point for appreciating that there is a distinctive part of our psychology for morality is seeing how moral judgments differ from other kinds of opinions we have on how people ought to behave. Moralization is a psychological state that can be turned on and off like a switch, and when it is on, a distinctive mind-set commandeers our thinking. This is the mind-set that makes us deem actions immoral (“killing is wrong”), rather than merely disagreeable (“I hate brussels sprouts”), unfashionable (“bell-bottoms are out”) or imprudent (“don’t scratch mosquito bites”).

The first hallmark of moralization is that the rules it invokes are felt to be universal. Prohibitions of rape and murder, for example, are felt not to be matters of local custom but to be universally and objectively warranted. One can easily say, “I don’t like brussels sprouts, but I don’t care if you eat them,” but no one would say, “I don’t like killing, but I don’t care if you murder someone.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Frans de Waal’s “The Bonobo and the Atheist”

By John Archibald Wheerler
Helian Unbound
Originally posted October 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

In theory, de Waal is certainly a subjective moralist.  As he puts it, “the whole point of my book is to argue a bottom up approach” to morality, as opposed to the top down approach:  “The view of morality as a set of immutable principles, or laws, that are ours to discover.”  The “bottom” de Waal refers to are evolved emotional traits.  In his words:
The moral law is not imposed from above or derived from well-reasoned principles; rather, it arises from ingrained values that have been there since the beginning of time.
My views are in line with the way we know the human mind works, with visceral reactions arriving before rationalizations, and also with the way evolution produces behavior.  A good place to start is with an acknowledgment of our background as social animals, and how this background predisposes us to treat each other.  This approach deserves attention at a time in which even avowed atheists are unable to wean themselves from a semireligious morality, thinking that the world would be a better place if only a white-coated priesthood could take over from the frocked one. 
So far, so good.  I happen to be a subjective moralist myself, and agree with de Waal on the origins of morality.  However, reading on, we find confirmation of a prediction made long ago by Friedrich Nietzsche.  In Human, All Too Human, he noted the powerful human attachment to religion and the “metaphysics” of the old philosophers.  He likened the expansion of human knowledge to a ladder, or tree, up which humanity was gradually climbing.  As we reached the top rungs, however, we would begin to notice that the old beliefs that had supplied us with such great emotional satisfaction in the past were really illusions.

The entire blog post is here.

The human race evolved to be fair for selfish reasons

By Rachel Kendal
The Conversation
Originally posted September 19, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Biologists are surprised by this tendency to behave fairly. The theory of evolution by natural selection predicts that individuals should behave in ways to maximise their inclusive fitness. So behaviours are only selected, and hence evolve, if they ensure the survival and reproduction of the actor or kin whom contain copies of the actor’s genes. However, the behaviour displayed by children seems to be at a detriment to themselves, especially when those who benefit from their selfless behaviour are not the children’s kin.

A child’s sense of fairness, egalitarianism, or aversion to inequality can actually be hampered by instruction to “be fair” and rewarding of this behaviour. That is because what is the child’s intrinsic motivation, becomes a need to follow externally imposed rules. And, as we all know, following rules we believe in is far easier than following rules that are imposed upon us, despite attendant punishments for not doing so.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care

Patrick W. Corrigan, Benjamin G. Druss, and Deborah A. Perlick
Psychological Science in the Public Interest 2014, Vol. 15(2) 37–70.


Treatments have been developed and tested to successfully reduce the symptoms and disabilities of many mental illnesses. Unfortunately, people distressed by these illnesses often do not seek out services or choose to fully engage in them. One factor that impedes care seeking and undermines the service system is mental illness stigma. In this article, we review the complex elements of stigma in order to understand its impact on participating in care. We then summarize public policy considerations in seeking to tackle stigma in order to improve treatment engagement. Stigma is a complex construct that includes public, self, and structural components. It directly affects people with mental illness, as well as their support system, provider network, and community resources. The effects of stigma are moderated by knowledge of mental illness and cultural relevance. Understanding stigma is central to reducing its negative impact on care seeking and treatment engagement. Separate strategies have evolved for counteracting the effects of public, self, and structural stigma. Programs for mental health providers may be especially fruitful for promoting care engagement. Mental health literacy, cultural competence, and family engagement campaigns also mitigate stigma’s adverse impact on care seeking. Policy change is essential to overcome the structural stigma that undermines government agendas meant to promote mental health care. Implications for expanding the research program on the connection between stigma and care seeking are discussed.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The psychology of martyrdom: Making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of a cause

By Jocelyn Belanger, Julie Caouette, Keren Sharvit, and Michelle Dugas
Personality and Social Psychology
107.3 (Sep 2014): 494-515.

Martyrdom is defined as the psychological readiness to suffer and sacrifice one’s life for a cause. An integrative set of 8 studies investigated the concept of martyrdom by creating a new tool to quantitatively assess individuals’ propensity toward self-sacrifice. Studies 1A–1C consisted of psychometric work attesting to the scale’s unidimensionality, internal consistency, and temporal stability while examining its nomological network. Studies 2A–2B focused on the scale’s predictive validity, especially as it relates to extreme behaviors and suicidal terrorism. Studies 3–5 focused on the influence of self-sacrifice on automatic decision making, costly and altruistic behaviors, and morality judgments. Results involving more than 2,900 participants from different populations, including a terrorist sample, supported the proposed conceptualization of martyrdom and demonstrated its importance for a vast repertoire of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenomena. Implications and future directions for the psychology of terrorism are discussed.


Dying for a cause? The very concept seems perplexing and bizarre. How could people in their right mind be willing to sacrifice their lives for an idea? Are we not hedonistic beings created to seek pleasure and avoid pain and motivated to survive above all? Yet the phenomenon of self-sacrifice is real enough, and suicide bombing seems to have become terrorists’ weapon of choice in recent years. Though social scientists’ interest in the psychology of self-sacrifice has been accentuated as of late (e.g., Gambetta, 2006; Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, & Fishman, 2009; Kruglanski et al., 2014; Pape, 2006), the idea of self-sacrifice or martyrdom is hardly new: Accounts of individuals dying on the altar of religious and political ideologies existed long before the tragedy of 9/11, the Japanese kamikaze of World War II, or even the crucifixion of Jesus Christ millennia ago. Yet it appears that no quick and easy answer can be conjured up to explain this phenomenon.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Doctors Net Billions From Drug Firms

By Peter Loftus
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted September 30, 2014

Drug and medical-device companies paid at least $3.5 billion to U.S. physicians and teaching hospitals during the final five months of last year, according to the most comprehensive accounting so far of the financial ties that some critics say have compromised medical care.

The figures come from a new federal government transparency initiative. The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a provision dubbed the Sunshine Act, which requires manufacturers of drugs and medical devices to disclose the payments they make to physicians and teaching hospitals each year for services such as consulting or research. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compiled the records into a database posted online Tuesday, though the agency said that about 40% of the payment information won't identify the recipients because of data problems.

The entire article is here.

When Medicine Is Futile

By Barron Lerner
The New York Times
Originally published September 18, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The medical futility movement, which argued that doctors should be able to withhold interventions that they believed would merely prolong the dying process, did not experience great success. Physicians declaring things to be “futile” sounded too much like the old system of medical paternalism, in which doctors had made life-and-death decisions for patients by themselves. It was this mind-set that bioethics, appropriately, had sought to correct. Patients (or their families) were supposed to be in charge.

The problem was that the new system did not account for one thing: Patients often demanded interventions that had little or no chance of succeeding. And physicians, with ethicists and lawyers looking over their shoulders, and, at times, with substantial money to be made, provided them.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Reification and compassion in medicine: A tale of two systems

By Anna Smajdor
Clinical Ethics 
December 2013 vol. 8 no. 4 111-118


In this paper, I will explore ideas advanced by Bradshaw, Pence and others who have written on compassion in healthcare. I will attempt to see how and whether their assumptions about compassion can be justified, and explore the role compassion should play in a modern healthcare system. I will justify scepticism at the idea of attempting to incentivise compassion through metrics. The Francis Report raises important questions concerning the nature of a healthcare system that harms rather than helps patients. If something is failing in modern healthcare, those in charge should naturally seek to remedy it. I will investigate whether this is due to the disappearance of compassion, and if so, what is it that is emerging to fill its place. I will consider whether we need to rehabilitate or enforce compassion in the system, or to acknowledge that our modern healthcare systems are incompatible with compassion and how we can make the best of what remains.

The entire article is here.

Here is an excerpt:

Compassion is neither necessary nor sufficient for the provision of good healthcare

The following assumptions are commonly made about compassion in healthcare:

1. Compassion is intrinsically, rather than instrumentally valuable
2. Compassion is incommensurable
3. Compassion is a necessary attribute for healthcare professionals

In this paper, I do not question the first two assumptions, though it seems plausible that they
could be challenged. Rather, I want to suggest that if we accept the first two assumptions, the
third cannot follow as a matter of course.

Panel Urges Overhauling Health Care at End of Life

By Pam Belluck
The New York Times
Originally posted on September 17, 2014

The country’s system for handling end-of-life care is largely broken and should be overhauled at almost every level, a national panel concluded in a report released on Wednesday.

The 21-member nonpartisan committee, appointed by the Institute of Medicine, the independent research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, called for sweeping change.

“The bottom line is the health care system is poorly designed to meet the needs of patients near the end of life,” said David M. Walker, a Republican and a former United States comptroller general, who was a chairman of the panel. “The current system is geared towards doing more, more, more, and that system by definition is not necessarily consistent with what patients want, and is also more costly.”

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Could Deep-Brain Stimulation Fortify Soldiers’ Minds?

By S. Matthew Liao
Scientific American Blog
Originally posted September 4, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Brain implants that reduce or eliminate our sense of morality are morally undesirable and are not really enhancements as such. Efforts should therefore be made to ensure that the kind of brain implants we develop do not have these unwanted side effects. In the short term, the brain implants we develop may well be imperfect in just such a way. If so, this would be a good reason to ban such devices in the short term. The interesting theoretical issue is what happens when we have perfected the technology and have brain implants that would enable a soldier to kill at the right time, for the right reasons, and in a proportionate manner? Would we still have ethical problems with soldiers using such a technology

The entire blog post is here.

The ‘perfect family’ has created an ethical and moral vacuum

By Zoe Krupka
The Conversation
Originally published September 11, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Arndt and Hymowitz, like many psychologists, opinionators and policy-makers, have distilled complex family studies research into a series of simplistic, unscientific and punitive ethical shortcuts to the question of how to live well in a family. It’s both a gross misuse of the evidence base and a stunted template for ethical decision-making. Squeezed into a tabloid headline, the message reads: Face Facts: If you’re a parent and you’re not married, your family is dysfunctional and your kids are suffering.

The ideal of the perfect family lurks not so quietly underneath these simple summaries of complex interpersonal and social life. It creates a kind of ethical vacuum where the question of competing factors and conflicting interests becomes invisible. In order to maintain an ideal of perfection, family studies research can be used as a kind of blunt instrument, forcing individuals to bear the brunt of more complex social forces alone.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ethical trap: robot paralysed by choice of who to save

By Aviva Rutkin
The New Scientist
Originally published September 14, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

In an experiment, Winfield and his colleagues programmed a robot to prevent other automatons – acting as proxies for humans – from falling into a hole. This is a simplified version of Isaac Asimov's fictional First Law of Robotics – a robot must not allow a human being to come to harm.

At first, the robot was successful in its task. As a human proxy moved towards the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. The work was presented on 2 September at the Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems meeting in Birmingham, UK.

The entire article, with video, is here.

Morality in everyday life

By Wilhelm Hofmann, Daniel C. Wisneski, Mark J. Brandt,  and Linda J. Skitka
Science 12 September 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6202 pp. 1340-1343
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251560


The science of morality has drawn heavily on well-controlled but artificial laboratory settings. To study everyday morality, we repeatedly assessed moral or immoral acts and experiences in a large (N = 1252) sample using ecological momentary assessment. Moral experiences were surprisingly frequent and manifold. Liberals and conservatives emphasized somewhat different moral dimensions. Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts. Being the target of moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on happiness, whereas committing moral or immoral deeds had the strongest impact on sense of purpose. Analyses of daily dynamics revealed evidence for both moral contagion and moral licensing. In sum, morality science may benefit from a closer look at the antecedents, dynamics, and consequences of everyday moral experience.

Editor's Summary

Moral homeostasis in real life vs. the lab

Individuals who witnessed a moral deed are more likely than nonwitnesses to perform a moral deed themselves and are also more likely to allow themselves to act immorally. Hofmann et al. asked smartphone users to report their encounters with morality (see the Perspective by Graham). Most moral judgment experiments are lab-based and don't allow for conclusions based on what people experience in their daily lives. This field experiment revealed that people experience moral events frequently in daily life. A respondent's ideology influenced the kind of event reported and the frequency, which is consistent with moral foundations theory.

The author's email is here to obtain a copy of the article.

Monday, October 6, 2014

On Aiming for Moral Mediocrity

By Eric Schwitzgebel
The Splintered Mind Blog
Originally published October 2, 2014

People seem to calibrate toward moral mediocrity. If we see, or are told, that many people violate a norm, that seems to increase the rate at which we ourselves violate the norm (e.g., Cialdini et al 2006; Keizer et al. 2011 [though see here]). Commit a good deed or think of yourself in a good light, and shortly thereafter you might be more likely to commit a bad deed, or less likely to commit another good deed, than you otherwise would have been ("moral self-licensing"; though see here). Susan Wolf tells us that people do not, and should not, aim to be moral saints. But maybe she understates the case: Not only do people not want to be saints, they don't even want to be particularly good.

The entire blog post is here.

How neuroscience is being used to spread quackery in business and education

By Matt Wall
The Conversation
Originally published August 26, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Recent years have seen a huge growth in the public awareness of neuroscience. People have become more interested in new findings about the brain, and also find brain-based explanations quite compelling. This public interest has led enterprising individuals to try to apply neuroscientific ideas to more everyday situations.

This trend first began back in the late 1990s with “neuromarketing”. More recent developments involve the use neuroscience in the business world and in education. But, like homeopathy and phrenology many of these applications can be regarded as “cargo-cult neuroscience”.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Whistleblowing and the Bioethicist’s Public Obligations

By D. Robert MacDougall
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics / Volume 23 / Issue 04 / October 2014, pp 431-442


Bioethicists are sometimes thought to have heightened obligations by virtue of the fact that their professional role addresses ethics or morals. For this reason it has been argued that bioethicists ought to “whistleblow”—that is, publicly expose the wrongful or potentially harmful activities of their employer—more often than do other kinds of employees. This article argues that bioethicists do indeed have a heightened obligation to whistleblow, but not because bioethicists have heightened moral obligations in general. Rather, the special duties of bioethicists to act as whistleblowers are best understood by examining the nature of the ethical dilemma typically encountered by private employees and showing why bioethicists do not encounter this dilemma in the same way. Whistleblowing is usually understood as a moral dilemma involving conflicting duties to two parties: the public and a private employer. However, this article argues that this way of understanding whistleblowing has the implication that professions whose members identify their employer as the public—such as government employees or public servants—cannot consider whistleblowing a moral dilemma, because obligations are ultimately owed to only one party: the public. The article contends that bioethicists—even when privately employed—are similar to government employees in the sense that they do not have obligations to defer to the judgments of those with private interests. Consequently, bioethicists may be considered to have a special duty to whistleblow, although for different reasons than those usually cited.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Simplified Account of Kant's Ethics

By Onora O'Neill

From Matters of Life and Death, ed. Tom Regan
Copyright 1986, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
Excerpted in Contemporary Moral Problems, ed. James E. White
Copyright 1994, West Publishing Company

Kant's moral theory has acquired the reputation of being forbiddingly difficult to understand and, once understood, excessively demanding in its requirements. I don't believe that this reputation has been wholly earned, and I am going to try to undermine it.... I shall try to reduce some of the difficulties.... Finally, I shall compare Kantian and utilitarian approaches and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

The main method by which I propose to avoid some of the difficulties of Kant's moral theory is by explaining only one part of the theory. This does not seem to me to be an irresponsible approach in this case. One of the things that makes Kant's moral theory hard to understand is that he gives a number of different versions of the principle that he calls the Supreme Principle of Morality, and these different versions don't look at all like one another. They also don't look at all like the utilitarians' Greatest Happiness Principle. But the Kantian principle is supposed to play a similar role in arguments about what to do.

To learn the short version of Kant, read on here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Nana Cams: Personal Surveillance Video and Privacy in the Age of Self Embellishment

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
Originally posted September 10, 2014

In David Eggers’ novel, The Circle, a fictional internet company creates and encourages users to video stream their lives. Wearing a small camera, people can share every experience of every day with whomever wants to follow them…except to the bathroom. The first streamers become instant celebrities and instant villains. The result is the end of privacy as anyone has known it. The upshot, according to the fictional company, is that if people know they are being watched (or might be being watched), people will behave more civilly. The echoes of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon notwithstanding, at the end of the book the protagonist suddenly wonders if the recording of all lives comes at too high a cost.

The entire blog post is here.


By Charles Guigon and Somogy Varga
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Originally posted on September 11, 2014

The term ‘authentic’ is used either in the strong sense of being “of undisputed origin or authorship”, or in a weaker sense of being “faithful to an original” or a “reliable, accurate representation”. To say that something is authentic is to say that it is what it professes to be, or what it is reputed to be, in origin or authorship. But the distinction between authentic and derivative is more complicated when discussing authenticity as a characteristic attributed to human beings. For in this case, the question arises: What is it to be oneself, at one with oneself, or truly representing one's self? The multiplicity of puzzles that arise in conjunction with the conception of authenticity connects with metaphysical, epistemological, and moral issues. On the one hand, being oneself is inescapable, since whenever one makes a choice or acts, it is oneself who is doing these things. But on the other hand, we are sometimes inclined to say that some of the thoughts, decisions and actions that we undertake are not really one's own and are therefore not genuinely expressive of who one is. Here, the issue is no longer of metaphysical nature, but rather about moral-psychology, identity and responsibility.

When used in this latter sense, the characterization describes a person who acts in accordance with desires, motives, ideals or beliefs that are not only hers (as opposed to someone else's), but that also express who she really is. Bernard Williams captures this when he specifies authenticity as “the idea that some things are in some sense really you, or express what you are, and others aren't” (quoted in Guignon 2004: viii).

Besides being a topic in philosophical debates, authenticity is also a pervasive ideal that impacts social and political thinking. In fact, one distinctive feature of recent Western intellectual developments has been a shift to what is called the “age of authenticity” (Taylor 2007; Ferrarra 1998). Therefore, understanding the concept also involves investigating its historical and philosophical sources and on the way it impacts the socio-political outlook of contemporary societies.

The entire entry is here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In a Study, Text Messages Add Up to a Balance Sheet of Everyday Morality

By Benedict Carey
The New York Times
Originally posted September 11, 2014

Committing a small act of kindness, like holding the door for a harried stranger, often prompts the recipient to extend a hand to others, but it comes at a cost, psychologists have long argued. People who have done the good deed are primed to commit a rude one later on, as if drawing on moral credit from their previous act.

Now, in a novel survey of everyday moral behavior, researchers have tested whether that theory holds up in real life. It does, though the effects appear small.

The findings come from a survey of everyday morality in which researchers tracked people’s moral judgments and attitudes at regular intervals throughout a typical day, using text messages.

The entire article is here.

Kaiser to pay $4 million fine over access to mental health services

By Cynthia H. Craft
Sacramento Bee
Originally posted September 10, 2014

Health care giant Kaiser Permanente has agreed to pay a $4 million fine to California’s overseer of managed health care following an 18-month battle with state officials over whether Kaiser blocked patients from timely access to mental health services.


Moreover, the department found that Kaiser was likely violating state and federal mental health parity laws. The California Mental Health Parity Act requires managed care providers to provide psychiatric services that are equal in quality and access to their primary care services.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ethical Principles and the Communication of Forensic Mental Health Assessments

Alfred Allan, Thomas Grisso
Ethics & Behavior 
Vol. 24, Iss. 6, 2014

Our premise is that ethics is the essence of good forensic practice and that mental health professionals must adhere to the ethical principles, standards, and guidelines of their professional bodies when they communicate their findings and opinions. We demonstrate that adhering to ethical principles can improve the quality of forensic reports and communications. We demonstrate this by focusing on the most basic principles that underlie professional ethical standards and guidelines, namely, Fidelity and Responsibility, Integrity, Respecting Rights and Dignity of Persons, and Justice and Fairness. For each principle we offer a brief definition and explain its demands. Then we identify ways in which the principle can guide the organization, content, or style of forensic mental health report writing, offering illustrative examples that demonstrate or abuse the principle.


Unless they are confronted with a specific ethical problem, many professionals consider the writing of reports an archetypical practical task and might not consider how it is related to the ethical principles of their profession. Yet ethics is the very essence of professional practice. As we seek to demonstrate, almost every facet of report writing is related to an ethical principle. We do not assert that one is practicing unethically if one makes the types of errors in report writing that we have described. Our primary purpose in this article is to demonstrate how forensic report writing can be improved by using professional ethics principles as a guide for report-writing practice.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Possible neurobiological basis for tradeoff between honesty, self-interest

By Ashley Wenners Herron
Originally published September 4, 2014


What's the price on your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough. Now, scientists have confirmed the area of the brain in which we make that decision, using advanced imaging techniques to study how the brain makes choices about honesty.


The study sheds light on the neuroscientific basis and broader nature of honesty. Moral philosophers and cognitive psychologists have had longstanding, contrasting hypotheses about the mechanisms governing the tradeoff between honesty and self-interest.

The "Grace" hypothesis, suggests that people are innately honest and have to control honest impulses if they want to profit. The "Will" hypothesis holds that self-interest is our automatic response.

The entire article is here.