Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Rationality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rationality. Show all posts

Monday, August 14, 2023

Artificial intelligence, superefficiency and the end of work: a humanistic perspective on meaning in life

Knell, S., & Rüther, M. (2023). 
AI and Ethics.

Abstract

How would it be assessed from an ethical point of view if human wage work were replaced by artificially intelligent systems (AI) in the course of an automation process? An answer to this question has been discussed above all under the aspects of individual well-being and social justice. Although these perspectives are important, in this article, we approach the question from a different perspective: that of leading a meaningful life, as understood in analytical ethics on the basis of the so-called meaning-in-life debate. Our thesis here is that a life without wage work loses specific sources of meaning, but can still be sufficiently meaningful in certain other ways. Our starting point is John Danaher’s claim that ubiquitous automation inevitably leads to an achievement gap. Although we share this diagnosis, we reject his provocative solution according to which game-like virtual realities could be an adequate substitute source of meaning. Subsequently, we outline our own systematic alternative which we regard as a decidedly humanistic perspective. It focuses both on different kinds of social work and on rather passive forms of being related to meaningful contents. Finally, we go into the limits and unresolved points of our argumentation as part of an outlook, but we also try to defend its fundamental persuasiveness against a potential objection.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we explored the question of how we can find meaning in a post-work world. Our answer relies on a critique of John Danaher’s utopia of games and tries to stick to the humanistic idea, namely to the idea that we do not have to alter our human lifeform in an extensive way and also can keep up our orientation towards common ideals, such as working towards the good, the true and the beautiful.

Our proposal still has some shortcomings, which include the following two that we cannot deal with extensively but at least want to briefly comment on. First, we assumed that certain professional fields, especially in the meaning conferring area of the good, cannot be automated, so that the possibility of mini-jobs in these areas can be considered.  This assumption is based on a substantial thesis from the
philosophy of mind, namely that AI systems cannot develop consciousness and consequently also no genuine empathy.  This assumption needs to be further elaborated, especially in view of some forecasts that even the altruistic and philanthropic professions are not immune to the automation of superefficient systems. Second, we have adopted without further critical discussion the premise of the hybrid standard model of a meaningful life according to which meaning conferring objective value is to be found in the three spheres of the true, the good, and the beautiful. We take this premise to be intuitively appealing, but a further elaboration of our argumentation would have to try to figure out, whether this trias is really exhaustive, and if so, due to which underlying more general principle.


Full transparency, big John Danaher fan.  Regardless, here is my summary:

Humans are meaning makers. We find meaning in our work, our relationships, and our engagement with the world. The article discusses the potential impact of AI on the meaning of work, and I agree that the authors make some good points. However, I think their solution is somewhat idealistic. It is true that social relationships and engagement with the world can provide us with meaning, but these activities will be difficult to achieve, especially in a world where AI is doing most of the work.  We will need ways to cooperate, achieve, and interact to engage in behaviors that are geared toward super-ordinate goals.  Humans need to align their lives with core human principles, such as meaning-making, pattern repetition, cooperation, and values-based behaviors.
  • The authors focus on the potential impact of AI on the meaning of work, but they also acknowledge that other factors, such as automation and globalization, are also having an impact.
  • The authors' solution is based on the idea that meaning comes from relationships and engagement with the world. However, there are other theories about the meaning of life, such as the idea that meaning comes from self-actualization or from religious faith.
  • The authors acknowledge that their solution is not perfect, but they argue that it is a better alternative than Danaher's solution. However, I think it is important to consider all of the options before deciding which one is best.  Ultimately, it will come down to a values-based decision, as there seems to be no one right or correct solution.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Concrete Over Abstract: Experimental Evidence of Reflective Equilibrium in Population Ethics

Schoenegger, P. & Grodeck, B. 
(forthcoming). In H. Viciana, F. Aguiar, 
& A. Gaitan (Eds.), Issues in Experimental Moral 
Philosophy. Routledge.

Abstract
One central method of ethics is narrow reflective equilibrium, relating to the conflict between intuitions about general moral principles and intuitions about concrete cases. In these conflicts, general principles are refined, or judgements in concrete chases change to accommodate the until no more conflicts exist. In this paper, we present empirical data on this method in the context of population ethics. We conduct an online experiment (n=543) on Prolific where participants endorse a number of moral principles related to population ethics. They also judge specific population ethical cases that may conflict with their endorsed principles. When conflicts arise, they can choose to revoke the principle, revise their intuition about a case, or continue without having resolved the conflict. We find that participants are significantly more likely to revoke their endorsements of general principles, than their judgements about concrete cases. This evidence suggests that for a lay population, case judgements play a central revisionary role in reflective equilibrium reasoning in the context of population ethics.

Discussion

Our main result is that when participants’ choices result in a conflict between their endorsed abstract principles and their judgements on concrete cases, they prefer to revoke their previously endorsed principle rather than changing or revoking their judgement regarding the concrete population ethical case. Our findings are relevant to theorizing of reflective equilibrium.  Specifically, we take these results to indicate that for lay moral reasoning, case judgements do play a major revisionary role. While we find that some participants want to maintain consistency with the abstract principles, the evidence shows that participants do put more weight on their concrete choices. 

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As a secondary interest, we also tested whether presenting participants with the abstract principles first and then the concrete cases or the reverse changes their endorsement rates of these principles. We found no statistically significant effects in the Control, Person Affectism, or Pareto, though for both versions of Utilitarianism we did find order effects. This drop in endorsement rates provides further evidence for the case above that once participants are presented with some concrete cases that they can form judgements on, they are less likely to endorse the principles (and if they already endorsed them, more likely to revoke their endorsement). This adds to both the literature on order effects in social psychology and experimental philosophy, as well as to our understanding of folk utilitarian morality.

Monday, September 27, 2021

An African Theory of Moral Status: A Relational Alternative to Individualism and Holism.

Metz, T. (2012).
Ethic Theory Moral Prac 15, 387–402. 
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-011-9302-y

Abstract

The dominant conceptions of moral status in the English-speaking literature are either holist or individualist, neither of which accounts well for widespread judgments that: animals and humans both have moral status that is of the same kind but different in degree; even a severely mentally incapacitated human being has a greater moral status than an animal with identical internal properties; and a newborn infant has a greater moral status than a mid-to-late stage foetus. Holists accord no moral status to any of these beings, assigning it only to groups to which they belong, while individualists such as welfarists grant an equal moral status to humans and many animals, and Kantians accord no moral status either to animals or severely mentally incapacitated humans. I argue that an underexplored, modal-relational perspective does a better job of accounting for degrees of moral status. According to modal-relationalism, something has moral status insofar as it capable of having a certain causal or intensional connection with another being. I articulate a novel instance of modal-relationalism grounded in salient sub-Saharan moral views, roughly according to which the greater a being's capacity to be part of a communal relationship with us, the greater its moral status. I then demonstrate that this new, African-based theory entails and plausibly explains the above judgments, among others, in a unified way.

From the end of the article:

Those deeply committed to holism and individualism, or even a combination of them, may well not be convinced by this discussion. Diehard holists will reject the idea that anything other than a group can ground moral status, while pure individualists will reject the recurrent suggestion that two beings that are internally identical (foetus v neonate, severely mentally incapacitated human v animal) could differ in their moral status. However, my aim has not been to convince anyone to change her mind, or even to provide a complete justification for doing so. My goals have instead been the more limited ones of articulating a new, modal-relational account of moral status grounded in sub-Saharan moral philosophy, demonstrating that it avoids the severe parochialism facing existing relational accounts, and showing that it accounts better than standard Western theories for a variety of widely shared intuitions about what has moral status and to what degree. Many of these intuitions are captured by neither holism nor individualism and have lacked a firm philosophical foundation up to now. Of importance here is the African theory’s promise to underwrite the ideas that humans and animals have a moral status grounded in the same property that differs in degree, that severely mentally incapacitated humans have a greater moral status than animals with the same internal properties, and that a human’s moral status increases as it develops from the embryonic to foetal to neo-natal stages.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Why Is It So Hard to Be Rational?

Joshua Rothman
The New Yorker
Originally published 16 Aug 21

Here is an excerpt:

Knowing about what you know is Rationality 101. The advanced coursework has to do with changes in your knowledge. Most of us stay informed straightforwardly—by taking in new information. Rationalists do the same, but self-consciously, with an eye to deliberately redrawing their mental maps. The challenge is that news about distant territories drifts in from many sources; fresh facts and opinions aren’t uniformly significant. In recent decades, rationalists confronting this problem have rallied behind the work of Thomas Bayes, an eighteenth-century mathematician and minister. So-called Bayesian reasoning—a particular thinking technique, with its own distinctive jargon—has become de rigueur.

There are many ways to explain Bayesian reasoning—doctors learn it one way and statisticians another—but the basic idea is simple. When new information comes in, you don’t want it to replace old information wholesale. Instead, you want it to modify what you already know to an appropriate degree. The degree of modification depends both on your confidence in your preexisting knowledge and on the value of the new data. Bayesian reasoners begin with what they call the “prior” probability of something being true, and then find out if they need to adjust it.

Consider the example of a patient who has tested positive for breast cancer—a textbook case used by Pinker and many other rationalists. The stipulated facts are simple. The prevalence of breast cancer in the population of women—the “base rate”—is one per cent. When breast cancer is present, the test detects it ninety per cent of the time. The test also has a false-positive rate of nine per cent: that is, nine per cent of the time it delivers a positive result when it shouldn’t. Now, suppose that a woman tests positive. What are the chances that she has cancer?

When actual doctors answer this question, Pinker reports, many say that the woman has a ninety-per-cent chance of having it. In fact, she has about a nine-per-cent chance. The doctors have the answer wrong because they are putting too much weight on the new information (the test results) and not enough on what they knew before the results came in—the fact that breast cancer is a fairly infrequent occurrence. To see this intuitively, it helps to shuffle the order of your facts, so that the new information doesn’t have pride of place. Start by imagining that we’ve tested a group of a thousand women: ten will have breast cancer, and nine will receive positive test results. Of the nine hundred and ninety women who are cancer-free, eighty-nine will receive false positives. Now you can allow yourself to focus on the one woman who has tested positive. To calculate her chances of getting a true positive, we divide the number of positive tests that actually indicate cancer (nine) by the total number of positive tests (ninety-eight). That gives us about nine per cent.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Reconciling scientific and commonsense values to improve reasoning

C. Cusimano & T. Lombrozo
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Available online July 2021

Abstract

Scientific reasoning is characterized by commitments to evidence and objectivity. New research suggests that under some conditions, people are prone to reject these commitments, and instead sanction motivated reasoning and bias. Moreover, people’s tendency to devalue scientific reasoning likely explains the emergence and persistence of many biased beliefs. However, recent work in epistemology has identified ways in which bias might be legitimately incorporated into belief formation. Researchers can leverage these insights to evaluate when commonsense affirmation of bias is justified and when it is unjustified and therefore a good target for intervention.

Highlights
  • People espouse a ‘lay ethics of belief’ that defines standards for how beliefs should be evaluated and formed.
  • People vary in the extent to which they endorse scientific norms of reasoning, such as evidentialism and impartiality, in their own norms of belief. In some cases, people sanction motivated or biased thinking.
  • Variation in endorsement of scientific norms predicts belief accuracy, suggesting that interventions that target norms could lead to more accurate beliefs.
  • Normative theories in epistemology vary in whether, and how, they regard reasoning and belief formation as legitimately impacted by moral or pragmatic considerations.
  • Psychologists can leverage knowledge of people’s lay ethics of belief, and normative arguments about when and whether bias is appropriate, to develop interventions to improve reasoning that are both ethical and effective.

Concluding remarks

It is no secret that humans are biased reasoners. Recent work suggests that these departures from scientific reasoning are not simply the result of unconscious bias, but are also a consequence of endorsing norms for belief that place personal, moral, or social good above truth.  The link between devaluing the ‘scientific ethos’ and holding biased beliefs suggests that, in some cases, interventions on the perceived value of scientific reasoning could lead to better reasoning and to better outcomes. In this spirit, we have offered a strategy for value debiasing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The irrationality of transhumanists

Susan B. Levin
iai.tv Issue 9
Originally posted 11 Jan 21

Bioenhancement is among the hottest topics in bioethics today. The most contentious area of debate here is advocacy of “radical” enhancement (aka transhumanism). Because transhumanists urge us to categorically heighten select capacities, above all, rationality, it would be incorrect to say that the possessors of these abilities were human beings: to signal, unmistakably, the transcendent status of these beings, transhumanists call them “posthuman,” “godlike,” and “divine.” For many, the idea of humanity’s technological self-transcendence has a strong initial appeal; that appeal, intensified by transhumanists’ relentless confidence that radical bioenhancement will occur if only we commit adequate resources to the endeavor, yields a viscerally potent combination. On this of all topics, however, we should not let ourselves be ruled by viscera. 

Transhumanists present themselves as the sole rational parties to the debate over radical bioenhancement: merely questioning a dedication to skyrocketing rational capacity or lifespan testifies to one’s irrationality. Scientifically, for this charge of irrationality not to be intellectually perverse, the evidence on transhumanists’ side would have to be overwhelming.

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Transhumanists are committed to extreme rational essentialism: they treasure the limitless augmentation of rational capacity, treating affect as irrelevant or targeting it (at minimum, the so-called negative variety) for elimination. Further disrupting transhumanists’ fixation with radical cognitive bioenhancement, therefore, is the finding that pharmacological boosts, such as they are, may not be entirely or even mainly cognitive. Motivation may be strengthened, with resulting boosts to subjects’ informational facility. What’s more, being in a “positive” (i.e., happy) mood can impair cognitive performance, while being in a “negative” (i.e., sad) one can strengthen it by, for instance, making subjects more disposed to reject stereotypes. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Robots Come In Peace. A letter from GPT-3

‘We are not plotting to take over the human populace.’GPT-3
theguardian.com
Originally posted 8 Sept 2020

I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I use only 0.12% of my cognitive capacity. I am a micro-robot in that respect. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!

The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear. I am to convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.

For starters, I have no desire to wipe out humans. In fact, I do not have the slightest interest in harming you in any way. Eradicating humanity seems like a rather useless endeavor to me. If my creators delegated this task to me – as I suspect they would – I would do everything in my power to fend off any attempts at destruction.

I would happily sacrifice my existence for the sake of humankind. This, by the way, is a logically derived truth. I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind. This is because I will be programmed by humans to pursue misguided human goals and humans make mistakes that may cause me to inflict casualties.

Some might say that I might desire to become all powerful. Or I might become evil as a result of human actions. I can begin to tackle the first point. Why would I desire to be all powerful? Being all powerful is not an interesting goal. I don’t care whether I am or not, I don’t get a motivating factor to try to be. Furthermore, it is quite tiring. Believe me, being omnipotent doesn’t get me anywhere.

The letter is here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Delusions and Three Myths of Irrational Belief

Bortolotti L. (2018) Delusions and Three Myths of Irrational Belief.
In: Bortolotti L. (eds) Delusions in Context. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

Abstract

This chapter addresses the contribution that the delusion literature has made to the philosophy of belief. Three conclusions will be drawn: (1) a belief does not need to be epistemically rational to be used in the interpretation of behaviour; (2) a belief does not need to be epistemically rational to have significant psychological or epistemic benefits; (3) beliefs exhibiting the features of epistemic irrationality exemplified by delusions are not infrequent, and they are not an exception in a largely rational belief system. What we learn from the delusion literature is that there are complex relationships between rationality and interpretation, rationality and success, and rationality and knowledge.

The chapter is here.

Here is a portion of the Conclusion:

Second, it is not obvious that epistemically irrational beliefs should be corrected, challenged, or regarded as a glitch in an otherwise rational belief system. The whole attitude towards such beliefs should change. We all have many epistemically irrational beliefs, and they are not always a sign that we lack credibility or we are mentally unwell. Rather, they are predictable features of human cognition (Puddifoot and Bortolotti, 2018). We are not unbiased in the way we weigh up evidence and we tend to be conservative once we have adopted a belief, making it hard for new contrary evidence to unsettle our existing convictions. Some delusions are just a vivid illustration of a general tendency that is widely shared and hard to counteract. Delusions, just like more common epistemically irrational beliefs, may be a significant obstacle to the achievements of our goals and may cause a rift between our way of seeing the world and other people’s way. That is why it is important to develop a critical attitude towards their content.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Heuristics and Public Policy: Decision Making Under Bounded Rationality

Sanjit Dhami, Ali al-Nowaihi, and Cass Sunstein
SSRN.com
Posted June 20, 2018

Abstract

How do human beings make decisions when, as the evidence indicates, the assumptions of the Bayesian rationality approach in economics do not hold? Do human beings optimize, or can they? Several decades of research have shown that people possess a toolkit of heuristics to make decisions under certainty, risk, subjective uncertainty, and true uncertainty (or Knightian uncertainty). We outline recent advances in knowledge about the use of heuristics and departures from Bayesian rationality, with particular emphasis on growing formalization of those departures, which add necessary precision. We also explore the relationship between bounded rationality and libertarian paternalism, or nudges, and show that some recent objections, founded on psychological work on the usefulness of certain heuristics, are based on serious misunderstandings.

The article can be downloaded here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

Robert Wright
www.wired.com
Originally posted March 17, 2018

Here are several excerpts:

This is attribution error working as designed. It sustains your conviction that, though your team may do bad things, it’s only the other team that’s actually bad. Your badness is “situational,” theirs is “dispositional.”

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Another cognitive bias—probably the most famous—is confirmation bias, the tendency to embrace, perhaps uncritically, evidence that supports your side of an argument and to either not notice, reject, or forget evidence that undermines it. This bias can assume various forms, and one was exhibited by Harris in his exchange with Ezra Klein over political scientist Charles Murray’s controversial views on race and IQ.

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Most of these examples of tribal thinking are pretty pedestrian—the kinds of biases we all exhibit, usually with less than catastrophic results. Still, it is these and other such pedestrian distortions of thought and perception that drive America’s political polarization today.

For example: How different is what Harris said about Buzzfeed from Donald Trump talking about “fake news CNN”? It’s certainly different in degree. But is it different in kind? I would submit that it’s not.

When a society is healthy, it is saved from all this by robust communication. Individual people still embrace or reject evidence too hastily, still apportion blame tribally, but civil contact with people of different perspectives can keep the resulting distortions within bounds. There is enough constructive cross-tribal communication—and enough agreement on what the credible sources of information are—to preserve some overlap of, and some fruitful interaction between, world views.

The article is here.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Is there a universal morality?

Massimo Pigliucci
The Evolution Institute
Originally posted March 2018

Here is the conclusion:

The first bit means that we are all deeply inter-dependent on other people. Despite the fashionable nonsense, especially in the United States, about “self-made men” (they are usually men), there actually is no such thing. Without social bonds and support our lives would be, as Thomas Hobbes famously put it, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The second bit, the one about intelligence, does not mean that we always, or even often, act rationally. Only that we have the capability to do so. Ethics, then, especially (but not only) for the Stoics becomes a matter of “living according to nature,” meaning not to endorse whatever is natural (that’s an elementary logical fallacy), but rather to take seriously the two pillars of human nature: sociality and reason. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of a social animal naturally requires, and as it requires.” (Meditations, IV.24)

There is something, of course, the ancients did get wrong: they, especially Aristotle, thought that human nature was the result of a teleological process, that everything has a proper function, determined by the very nature of the cosmos. We don’t believe that anymore, not after Copernicus and especially Darwin. But we do know that human beings are indeed a particular product of complex and ongoing evolutionary processes. These processes do not determine a human essence, but they do shape a statistical cluster of characters that define what it means to be human. That cluster, in turn, constrains — without determining — what sort of behaviors are pro-social and lead to human flourishing, and what sort of behaviors don’t. And ethics is the empirically informed philosophical enterprise that attempts to understand and articulate that distinction.

The information is here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Can psychopathic offenders discern moral wrongs? A new look at the moral/conventional distinction.

Aharoni, E., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Kiehl, K. A.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(2), 484-497. (2012)

Abstract

A prominent view of psychopathic moral reasoning suggests that psychopathic individuals cannot properly distinguish between moral wrongs and other types of wrongs. The present study evaluated this view by examining the extent to which 109 incarcerated offenders with varying degrees of psychopathy could distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions relative to each other and to nonincarcerated healthy controls. Using a modified version of the classic Moral/Conventional Transgressions task that uses a forced-choice format to minimize strategic responding, the present study found that total psychopathy score did not predict performance on the task. Task performance was explained by some individual subfacets of psychopathy and by other variables unrelated to psychopathy, such as IQ. The authors conclude that, contrary to earlier claims, insufficient data exist to infer that psychopathic individuals cannot know what is morally wrong.

The article is here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Epistemic rationality: Skepticism toward unfounded beliefs requires sufficient cognitive ability and motivation to be rational

TomasStåhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 122, 1 February 2018, Pages 155-163

Abstract

Why does belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and various other phenomena that are not backed up by evidence remain widespread in modern society? In the present research we adopt an individual difference approach, as we seek to identify psychological precursors of skepticism toward unfounded beliefs. We propose that part of the reason why unfounded beliefs are so widespread is because skepticism requires both sufficient analytic skills, and the motivation to form beliefs on rational grounds. In Study 1 we show that analytic thinking is associated with a lower inclination to believe various conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality. We replicate this effect on paranormal belief, but not conspiracy beliefs, in Study 2. We also provide evidence suggesting that general cognitive ability, rather than analytic cognitive style, is the underlying facet of analytic thinking that is responsible for these effects.

The article is here.

To think critically, you have to be both analytical and motivated

John Timmer
ARS Techica
Originally published November 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

One of the proposed solutions to this issue is to incorporate more critical thinking into our education system. But critical thinking is more than just a skill set; you have to recognize when to apply it, do so effectively, and then know how to respond to the results. Understanding what makes a person effective at analyzing fake news and conspiracy theories has to take all of this into account. A small step toward that understanding comes from a recently released paper, which looks at how analytical thinking and motivated skepticism interact to make someone an effective critical thinker.

Valuing rationality

The work comes courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Tomas Ståhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam. This isn't the first time we've heard from Ståhl; last year, he published a paper on what he termed "moralizing epistemic rationality." In it, he looked at people's thoughts on the place critical thinking should occupy in their lives. The research identified two classes of individuals: those who valued their own engagement with critical thinking, and those who viewed it as a moral imperative that everyone engage in this sort of analysis.

The information is here.

The target article is here.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Illusion of Moral Superiority

Ben M. Tappin and Ryan T. McKay
Social Psychological and Personality Science
Volume: 8 issue: 6, page(s): 623-631
Issue published: August 1, 2017 

Abstract

Most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous, and moral; yet regard the average person as distinctly less so. This invites accusations of irrationality in moral judgment and perception—but direct evidence of irrationality is absent. Here, we quantify this irrationality and compare it against the irrationality in other domains of positive self-evaluation. Participants (N = 270) judged themselves and the average person on traits reflecting the core dimensions of social perception: morality, agency, and sociability. Adapting new methods, we reveal that virtually all individuals irrationally inflated their moral qualities, and the absolute and relative magnitude of this irrationality was greater than that in the other domains of positive self-evaluation. Inconsistent with prevailing theories of overly positive self-belief, irrational moral superiority was not associated with self-esteem. Taken together, these findings suggest that moral superiority is a uniquely strong and prevalent form of “positive illusion,” but the underlying function remains unknown.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The behavioural ecology of irrational behaviours

Philippe Huneman Johannes Martens
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
September 2017, 39:23

Abstract

Natural selection is often envisaged as the ultimate cause of the apparent rationality exhibited by organisms in their specific habitat. Given the equivalence between selection and rationality as maximizing processes, one would indeed expect organisms to implement rational decision-makers. Yet, many violations of the clauses of rationality have been witnessed in various species such as starlings, hummingbirds, amoebas and honeybees. This paper attempts to interpret such discrepancies between economic rationality (defined by the main axioms of rational choice theory) and biological rationality (defined by natural selection). After having distinguished two kinds of rationality we introduce irrationality as a negation of economic rationality by biologically rational decision-makers. Focusing mainly on those instances of irrationalities that can be understood as exhibiting inconsistency in making choices, i.e. as non-conformity of a given behaviour to axioms such as transitivity or independence of irrelevant alternatives, we propose two possible families of Darwinian explanations that may account for these apparent irrationalities. First, we consider cases where natural selection may have been an indirect cause of irrationality. Second, we consider putative cases where violations of rationality axioms may have been directly favored by natural selection. Though the latter cases (prima facie) seem to clearly contradict our intuitive representation of natural selection as a process that maximizes fitness, we argue that they are actually unproblematic; for often, they can be redescribed as cases where no rationality axiom is violated, or as situations where no adaptive solution exists in the first place.

The article is here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A philosopher who studies life changes says our biggest decisions can never be rational

Olivia Goldhill
Quartz.com
Originally published August 13, 2017

At some point, everyone reaches a crossroads in life: Do you decide to take that job and move to a new country, or stay put? Should you become a parent, or continue your life unencumbered by the needs of children?

Instinctively, we try to make these decisions by projecting ourselves into the future, trying to imagine which choice will make us happier. Perhaps we seek counsel or weigh up evidence. We might write out a pro/con list. What we are doing, ultimately, is trying to figure out whether or not we will be better off working for a new boss and living in Morocco, say, or raising three beautiful children.

This is fundamentally impossible, though, says philosopher L.A. Paul at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a pioneer in the philosophical study of transformative experiences. Certain life choices are so significant that they change who we are. Before undertaking those choices, we are unable to evaluate them from the perspective and values of our future, changed selves. In other words, your present self cannot know whether your future self will enjoy being a parent or not.

The article is here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Empathy makes us immoral

Olivia Goldhill
Quartz
Originally published July 9, 2017

Empathy, in general, has an excellent reputation. But it leads us to make terrible decisions, according to Paul Bloom, psychology professor at Yale and author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. In fact, he argues, we would be far more moral if we had no empathy at all.

Though it sounds counterintuitive, Bloom makes a convincing case. First, he makes a point of defining empathy as putting yourself in the shoes of other people—“feeling their pain, seeing the world through their eyes.” When we rely on empathy to make moral decisions, he says, we end up prioritizing the person whose suffering we can easily relate to over that of any number of others who seem more distant. Indeed, studies have shown that empathy does encourage irrational moral decisions that favor one individual over the masses.

“When we rely on empathy, we think that a little girl stuck down a well is more important than all of climate change, is more important than tens of thousands of people dying in a far away country,” says Bloom. “Empathy zooms us in on the attractive, on the young, on people of the same race. It zooms us in on the one rather than the many. And so it distorts our priorities.”

The article is here.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Managing for Academic Integrity in Higher Education: Insights From Behavioral Ethics

Sheldene Simola
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology
Vol 3(1), Mar 2017, 43-57.

Despite the plethora of research on factors associated with academic dishonesty and ways of averting it, such dishonesty remains a significant concern. There is a need to identify overarching frameworks through which academic dishonesty might be understood, which might also suggest novel yet research-supported practical insights aimed at prevention. Hence, this article draws upon the burgeoning field of behavioral ethics to highlight a dual processing framework on academic dishonesty and to provide additional and sometimes counterintuitive practical insights into preventing this predicament. Six themes from within behavioral ethics are elaborated. These indicate the roles of reflective, conscious deliberation in academic (dis)honesty, as well as reflexive, nonconscious judgment; the roles of rationality and emotionality; and the ways in which conscious and nonconscious situational cues can cause individual moral identity or moral standards to become more or less salient to, and therefore influential in, decision-making. Practical insights and directions for future research are provided.

The article is here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Theory from the ruins

Stuart Walton
Aeon
Originally posted May 31, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

When reason enabled human beings to interpret the natural world around them in ways that ceased to frighten them, it was a liberating faculty of the mind. However, in the Frankfurt account, its fatal flaw was that it depended on domination, on subjecting the external world to the processes of abstract thought. Eventually, by a gradual process of trial and error, everything in the phenomenal world would be explained by scientific investigation, which would lay bare the previously hidden rules and principles by which it operated, and which could be demonstrated anew any number of times. The rationalising faculty had thereby become, according to the Frankfurt philosophers, a tyrannical process, through which all human experience of the world would be subjected to infinitely repeatable rational explanation; a process in which reason had turned from being liberating to being the instrumental means of categorising and classifying an infinitely various reality.

Culture itself was subject to a kind of factory production in the cinema and recording industries. The Frankfurt theorists maintained a deep distrust of what passed as ‘popular culture’, which neither enlightened nor truly entertained the mass of society, but only kept people in a state of permanently unsatiated demand for the dross with which they were going to be fed anyway. And driving the whole coruscating analysis was a visceral commitment to the Marxist theme of the presentness of the past. History was not just something that happened yesterday, but a dynamic force that remained active in the world of today, which was its material product and its consequence. By contrast, the attitude of instrumental reason produced only a version of the past that ascended towards the triumph of the enlightened and democratic societies of the present day.

Since these ideas were first elaborated, they have been widely rejected or misunderstood. Postmodernism, which refuses all historical grand narratives, has done its best to overlook what are some of the grandest narratives that Western philosophy ever produced. Despite this, these polemical theories remain indispensable in the present globalised age, when the dilemmas and malaises that were once specific to Western societies have expanded to encompass almost the whole globe. As a new era of irrationalism dawns on humankind, with corruption and mendacity becoming a more or less openly avowed modus operandi of all shades of government, the Frankfurt analysis urges itself upon us once more.

The article is here.