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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Answering 'Why be good?" for a Three-Year-old

By Christian B. Miller
Big Ideas at Slate.com

Here is an excerpt:

I would also mention to my son that the question of, “Why be good?” is especially important because most of us—myself included—are simply not good, morally speaking. We do not have a virtuous or good character. Why do I say that? You might think it is obvious based on watching the nightly news. But my answer is based on hundreds of psychological studies from the last 50 years. In a famous experiment, for instance, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram found that many people would willingly shock an innocent person, even to the point of death, if pressured from an authority figure. Less well known but also important, are the findings by Lisa Shu of the London Business School. She and her colleagues have found that cheating on tests dramatically increases when it becomes clear to the test-takers that they will not get caught.

So there is a virtuous way to be—honest, compassionate, etc.—and then there is how we tend to actually be, which is not virtuous. Instead our characters are very much a mixed bag, with many good moral tendencies and many bad ones too. Given that most of us are not virtuous people, the question becomes: Why should we bother to try to develop a better character? Why should we care about it? Does developing better character even matter?

The entire article is here.