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 Virtue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virtue. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Can Robotic AI Systems Be Virtuous and Why Does This Matter?

Constantinescu, M., Crisp, R. 
Int J of Soc Robotics 14, 
1547–1557 (2022).


The growing use of social robots in times of isolation refocuses ethical concerns for Human–Robot Interaction and its implications for social, emotional, and moral life. In this article we raise a virtue-ethics-based concern regarding deployment of social robots relying on deep learning AI and ask whether they may be endowed with ethical virtue, enabling us to speak of “virtuous robotic AI systems”. In answering this question, we argue that AI systems cannot genuinely be virtuous but can only behave in a virtuous way. To that end, we start from the philosophical understanding of the nature of virtue in the Aristotelian virtue ethics tradition, which we take to imply the ability to perform (1) the right actions (2) with the right feelings and (3) in the right way. We discuss each of the three requirements and conclude that AI is unable to satisfy any of them. Furthermore, we relate our claims to current research in machine ethics, technology ethics, and Human–Robot Interaction, discussing various implications, such as the possibility to develop Autonomous Artificial Moral Agents in a virtue ethics framework.


AI systems are neither moody nor dissatisfied, and they do not want revenge, which seems to be an important advantage over humans when it comes to making various decisions, including ethical ones. However, from a virtue ethics point of view, this advantage becomes a major drawback. For this also means that they cannot act out of a virtuous character, either. Despite their ability to mimic human virtuous actions and even to function behaviourally in ways equivalent to human beings, robotic AI systems cannot perform virtuous actions in accordance with virtues, that is, rightly or virtuously; nor for the right reasons and motivations; nor through phronesis take into account the right circumstances. And this has the consequence that AI cannot genuinely be virtuous, at least not with the current technological advances supporting their functional development. Nonetheless, it might well be that the more we come to know about AI, the less we know about its future.Footnote9 We therefore leave open the possibility of AI systems being virtuous in some distant future. This might, however, require some disruptive, non-linear evolution that includes, for instance, the possibility that robotic AI systems fully deliberate over their own versus others' goals and happiness and make their own choices and priorities accordinglyFootnote10. Indeed, to be a virtuous agent one needs to have the possibility to make mistakes, to reason over virtuous and vicious lines of action. But then this raises a different question: are we prepared to experience interaction with vicious robotic AI systems?

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Virtue Discounting: Observers Infer that Publicly Virtuous Actors Have Less Principled Motivations

Kraft-Todd, G., Kleiman-Weiner, M., 
& Young, L. (2022, May 27). 


Behaving virtuously in public presents a paradox: only by doing so can people demonstrate their virtue and also influence others through their example, yet observers may derogate actors’ behavior as mere “virtue signaling.” We introduce the term virtue discounting to refer broadly to the reasons that people devalue actors’ virtue, bringing together empirical findings across diverse literatures as well as theories explaining virtuous behavior. We investigate the observability of actors’ behavior as one reason for virtue discounting, and its mechanism via motivational inferences using the comparison of generosity and impartiality as a case study among virtues. Across 14 studies (7 preregistered, total N=9,360), we show that publicly virtuous actors are perceived as less morally good than privately virtuous actors, and that this effect is stronger for generosity compared to impartiality (i.e. differential virtue discounting). An exploratory factor analysis suggests that three types of motives—principled, reputation-signaling, and norm-signaling—affect virtue discounting. Using structural equation modeling, we show that the effect of observability on ratings of actors’ moral goodness is largely explained by inferences that actors have less principled motivations. Further, we provide experimental evidence that observers’ motivational inferences mechanistically contribute to virtue discounting. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings, as well as future directions for research on the social perception of virtue.

General Discussion

Across three analyses martialing data from 14 experiments (seven preregistered, total N=9,360), we provide robust evidence of virtue discounting. In brief, we show that the observability of actors’ behavior is a reason that people devalue actors’ virtue, and that this effect can be explained by observers’ inferences about actors’ motivations. In Analysis 1—which includes a meta-analysis of all experiments we ran—we show that observability causes virtue discounting, and that this effect is larger in the context of generosity compared to impartiality. In Analysis 2, we provide suggestive evidence that participants’ motivational inferences mediate a large portion (72.6%) of the effect of observability on their ratings of actors’ moral goodness. In Analysis 3, we experimentally show that when we stipulate actors’ motivation, observability loses its significant effect on participants’ judgments of actors’ moral goodness.  This gives further evidence for   the hypothesis that observers’ inferences about actors’ motivations are a mechanism for the way that the observability of actions impacts virtue discounting.We now consider the contributions of our findings to the empirical literature, how these findings interact with our theoretical account, and the limitations of the present investigation (discussing promising directions for future research throughout). Finally, we conclude with practical implications for effective prosocial advocacy.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Can you really do more than what duty requires?

Roger Crisp
The New Statesman
Originally posted 8 JUN 22

Here is an excerpt:

Since supererogation involves the paradox of accepting moral duties that do not require one to do what is morally best, why do we continue to find the idea so compelling?

One reason might be that we think that without supererogation the dictates of morality would be unacceptably demanding. If each of us has a genuine duty to benefit others as much as we can, then, given the vast number of individuals in serious need, most of the better-off would be required to make major sacrifices to live a virtuous life. Supererogation puts a limit on such requirements.

The idea that we can go beyond our duty in a praiseworthy way may be attractive, then, because we need to balance morality with self-interest. Here we ought to remember that each of us reasonably attaches a certain amount of importance to how our own lives go. So, each of us has reason to advance our own happiness independent of our duty to benefit others (which is why we describe some cases of helping others as a “sacrifice”). The need to strike a balance between our moral duties and our self-interest may explain why the notion of supererogation is so appealing.

But this doesn’t get us out of Sidgwick’s paradox: anyone who knows the morally best thing to do, but consciously decides not to do it, seems morally “lazy”.

Given the current state of the world, this means that morality is much more demanding than we typically think. Many of us should be doing a great deal more to alleviate the suffering of others, and doing this may cost us not only resources, but to some extent our own happiness or well-being.

In making donations to help strangers, we must ask when our reasons to keeping resources for ourselves are outweighed by reasons of beneficence. Under a more demanding view of morality, I should donate the money I could use to upgrade my TV to a charity that can save someone’s sight. Similarly, if the billionaire class could eradicate world poverty by donating 50 per cent of their wealth to development agencies, then they should do so immediately.

This may sound austere to our contemporary ears, but the Ancient Greeks and their philosophers thought morality could be rather demanding, and yet they never even considered the idea that duty was something you could go beyond. According to them, there are right things to do, and we should do them, making us virtuous and praiseworthy. And if we don’t, we are acting wrongly, we deserve blame, and we should feel guilty and ashamed.

It’s plausible to think that, once our health and wealth have reached certain thresholds, the things that really matter for our well-being – friendship, family, meaningful activities, and so on – are largely independent of our financial position. So, making much bigger sacrifices than we currently do may not be nearly as difficult or demanding as we tend to think.

Editor's note: For psychologists, supererogatory actions may include political advocacy for greater access to care, pro bono treatment for underserved populations, and volunteering on state and national association committees.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Social Networking and Ethics

Vallor, Shannon
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
(Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Here is an excerpt:

Contemporary Ethical Concerns about Social Networking Services

While early SNS scholarship in the social and natural sciences tended to focus on SNS impact on users’ psychosocial markers of happiness, well-being, psychosocial adjustment, social capital, or feelings of life satisfaction, philosophical concerns about social networking and ethics have generally centered on topics less amenable to empirical measurement (e.g., privacy, identity, friendship, the good life and democratic freedom). More so than ‘social capital’ or feelings of ‘life satisfaction,’ these topics are closely tied to traditional concerns of ethical theory (e.g., virtues, rights, duties, motivations and consequences). These topics are also tightly linked to the novel features and distinctive functionalities of SNS, more so than some other issues of interest in computer and information ethics that relate to more general Internet functionalities (for example, issues of copyright and intellectual property).

Despite the methodological challenges of applying philosophical theory to rapidly shifting empirical patterns of SNS influence, philosophical explorations of the ethics of SNS have continued in recent years to move away from Borgmann and Dreyfus’ transcendental-existential concerns about the Internet, to the empirically-driven space of applied technology ethics. Research in this space explores three interlinked and loosely overlapping kinds of ethical phenomena:
  • direct ethical impacts of social networking activity itself (just or unjust, harmful or beneficial) on participants as well as third parties and institutions;
  • indirect ethical impacts on society of social networking activity, caused by the aggregate behavior of users, platform providers and/or their agents in complex interactions between these and other social actors and forces;
  • structural impacts of SNS on the ethical shape of society, especially those driven by the dominant surveillant and extractivist value orientations that sustain social networking platforms and culture.
Most research in the field, however, remains topic- and domain-driven—exploring a given potential harm or domain-specific ethical dilemma that arises from direct, indirect, or structural effects of SNS, or more often, in combination. Sections 3.1–3.5 outline the most widely discussed of contemporary SNS’ ethical challenges.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

America Runs on ‘Dirty Work’ and Moral Inequality

Eyal Press
The New York Times
Originally posted 13 Aug 21

Here is an excerpt:

“Dirty work” can refer to any unpleasant job, but among social scientists, the term has a more pointed meaning. In 1962, Everett Hughes, an American sociologist, published an essay titled “Good People and Dirty Work” that drew on conversations he’d had in postwar Germany about the mass atrocities of the Nazi era. Mr. Hughes argued that the persecution of Jews proceeded with the unspoken assent of many supposedly enlightened Germans, who refrained from asking too many questions because, on some level, they were not entirely displeased.

This was the nature of dirty work as Mr. Hughes conceived of it: unethical activity that was delegated to certain agents and then disavowed by society, even though the perpetrators had an “unconscious mandate” from their fellow citizens. As extreme as the Nazi example was, this dynamic existed in every society, Mr. Hughes wrote, enabling respectable citizens to distance themselves from the morally troubling things being done in their name. The dirty workers were not rogue actors but “agents” of “good people” who passively stood by.

Contemporary America runs on dirty work. Some of the people who do this work are our agents by virtue of the fact that they perform public functions, such as running the world’s largest penal system. Others qualify as such by catering to our consumption habits — the food we eat, the fossil fuels we burn, which are drilled and fracked by dirty workers in places like the Gulf of Mexico. The high-tech gadgets in our pockets rely on yet another form of dirty work — the mining of cobalt — that has been outsourced to workers in Africa and to foreign subcontractors that often brutally exploit them.

Like the essential jobs performed by grocery clerks and other low-wage workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, this work sustains our lifestyles and undergirds the prevailing social order, but privileged people are generally spared from having to think about it. One reason is that the dirty work occurs far away from them, in isolated institutions — prisons, slaughterhouses — that are closed to the public. Another reason is that the privileged rarely have to do it. Although there is no shortage of it to go around, dirty work in America is not randomly distributed. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Virtue signalling is virtuous

Neil Levy
Synthese (2020).


The accusation of virtue signalling is typically understood as a serious charge. Those accused usually respond (if not by an admission of fault) by attempting to show that they are doing no such thing. In this paper, I argue that we ought to embrace the charge, rather than angrily reject it. I argue that this response can draw support from cognitive science, on the one hand, and from social epistemology on the other. I claim that we may appropriately concede that what we are doing is (inter alia) virtue signalling, because virtue signalling is morally appropriate. It neither expresses vices, nor is hypocritical, nor does it degrade the quality of public moral discourse. Signalling our commitment to norms is a central and justifiable function of moral discourse, and the same signals provide (higher-order) evidence that is appropriately taken into account in forming moral beliefs.

From the Conclusion

The charge that someone is engaged in virtue signalling is widely felt to be a serious one. It is an accusation that stings. I hope we can now see that it should sting very much less. Virtue signalling is not an ir- or arational influence on belief formation. Rather, it provides (higher-order) evidence, which serves as an input into rational deliberation. Moreover, signalling is not a perversion of the central function of moral discourse. Independently of the role it plays in deliberation, signalling is a central function of public moral discourse, with an important role to play in enabling cooperation. Virtue signallers are not, in the main, hypocritical in their motivations and we have some grounds for thinking they are not dishonest in the signals they send.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Differential virtue discounting: Public generosity is seen as more selfish than public impartiality

Kraft-Todd, G., Kleiman-Weiner, M., & Young, L.
(2020, March 25).


There is a paradox in our desire to be seen as virtuous. If we do not overtly display our virtues, others will not be able to see them; yet, if we do overtly display our virtues, others may think that we do so only for social credit. Here, we investigate how virtue signaling works across two distinct virtues—generosity and impartiality—in eleven online experiments (total N=4,586). We demonstrate the novel phenomenon of differential virtue discounting, revealing that participants perceive actors who demonstrate virtue in public to be less virtuous than actors who demonstrate virtue in private, and, critically, that this effect is greater for generosity than impartiality. Further, we provide evidence for the mechanism underlying these judgments, showing that they are mediated by perceived selfish motivations. We discuss how these findings and our novel terminology can shed light on open questions in the social perception of reputation and motivation.

From the Discussion

We all want to be seen as virtuous. The paradox of this desire is that the best way to be seen as virtuous is to be virtuous in public; yet, if we are virtuous in public—as we have shown here—observers may believe our behavior to be selfishly motivated. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it: “The nicest feeling in the world is to do a good deed anonymously—and have somebody find out.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Trump Has Officially Made ‘Conservative Ethics’ an Oxymoron

Jonathan Chait
New York Magazine

The conservative intelligentsia initially greeted the rise of Donald Trump with revulsion. After some of them peeled off, a minority remained within the party tent on the grounds that they could support Trump’s policy goals without endorsing his grotesque character. Mitt Romney’s op-ed attacking Trump’s lack of virtue, however, has put this question squarely on the table. And the conservative response seems clear: Republicans will not abide attacks on Trump’s character, either.

A couple of recent columns nakedly illustrate the moral depravity into which conservatives have descended. It would be easy to mock some blow-dried Fox News bobblehead, but I’m going to focus on two samples from a pair of the more esteemed intellectuals the conservative movement has produced. The first is a column by Roger Kimball, and the second by Henry Olsen.

Kimball is an esteemed, long-standing conservative critic, who writes for a wide array of literary, scholarly, and pseudo-scholarly journals, and is frequently photographed in a bow tie. Like many conservative intellectuals, Kimball once devoted himself to the evils of moral relativism. “What a relativist really believes (or believes he believes) is that 1) there is no such thing as value and 2) there is no such thing as truth,” he wrote in one such essay, in 2009. Kimball explained that by attacking fixed truths, relativism allows the strongman to impose his own values. “Relativism and tyranny, far from being in opposition, are in fact regular collaborators,” he wrote. And also: “Relativism, which begins with a beckoning promise of liberation from ‘oppressive’ moral constraints, so often end in the embrace of immoral constraints that are politically obnoxious.”

The info is here.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Toward an Ethics of AI Assistants: an Initial Framework

John Danaher
Philosophy and Technology:1-25 (forthcoming)


Personal AI assistants are now nearly ubiquitous. Every leading smartphone operating system comes with a personal AI assistant that promises to help you with basic cognitive tasks: searching, planning, messaging, scheduling and so on. Usage of such devices is effectively a form of algorithmic outsourcing: getting a smart algorithm to do something on your behalf. Many have expressed concerns about this algorithmic outsourcing. They claim that it is dehumanising, leads to cognitive degeneration, and robs us of our freedom and autonomy. Some people have a more subtle view, arguing that it is problematic in those cases where its use may degrade important interpersonal virtues. In this article, I assess these objections to the use of AI assistants. I will argue that the ethics of their use is complex. There are no quick fixes or knockdown objections to the practice, but there are some legitimate concerns. By carefully analysing and evaluating the objections that have been lodged to date, we can begin to articulate an ethics of personal AI use that navigates those concerns. In the process, we can locate some paradoxes in our thinking about outsourcing and technological dependence, and we can think more clearly about what it means to live a good life in the age of smart machines.

The paper is here.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Life on the slippery Earth

Sebastian Purcell
Originally posted July 3, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

At its core, Aztec virtue ethics has three main elements. One is a conception of the good life as the ‘rooted’ or worthwhile life. Second is the idea of right action as the mean or middle way. Third and final is the belief that virtue is a quality that’s fostered socially.

When I speak about the Aztecs – the people dominant in large parts of central America prior to the 16th-century Spanish conquest – even professional philosophers are often surprised to learn that the Aztecs were a philosophical culture. They’re even more startled to hear that we have (many volumes of) their texts recorded in their native language, Nahuatl. While a few of the pre-colonial hieroglyphic-type books survived the Spanish bonfires, our main sources of knowledge derive from records made by Catholic priests, up to the early 17th century. Using the Latin alphabet, these texts record the statements of tlamatinime, the indigenous philosophers, on matters as diverse as bird-flight patterns, moral virtue, and the structure of the cosmos.

To explain the Aztec conception of the good life, it’s helpful to begin in the sixth volume of a book called the Florentine Codex, compiled by Father Bernardino of SahagĂșn. Most of the text contains edifying discourses called huehuetlatolli, the elders’ discourses. This particular section records the speeches following the appointment of a new king, when the noblemen appear to compete for the most eloquent articulation of what an ideal monarch should be and do. The result is a succession of speeches like those in Plato’s Symposium, wherein each member tries to produce the most moving expression of praise.

The info is here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Moral leaders perform better, but what’s ‘moral’ is up for debate

Matthew Biddle
State University of New York - Buffalo - Pressor
Originally released October 22, 2018

New research from the University at Buffalo School of Management is clear: Leaders who value morality outperform their unethical peers, regardless of industry, company size or role. However, because we all define a “moral leader” differently, leaders who try to do good may face unexpected difficulties.

Led by Jim Lemoine, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources, the research team examined more than 300 books, essays and studies on moral leadership from 1970-2018. They discovered that leaders who prioritized morality had higher performing organizations with less turnover, and that their employees were more creative, proactive, engaged and satisfied.

A pre-press version of the study appeared online this month ahead of publication in the Academy of Management Annals in January 2019.

“Over and over again, our research found that followers perceived ethical leaders as more effective and trusted, and those leaders enjoyed greater personal well-being than managers with questionable morality,” Lemoine says. “The problem is, though, that when we talk about an ‘ethical business leader,’ we’re often not talking about the same person.”

The pressor is here.

The research is here.

Moral forms of leadership such as ethical, authentic, and servant leadership have seen a surge of interest in the 21st century. The proliferation of morally-based leadership approaches has resulted in theoretical confusion and empirical overlap that mirror substantive concerns within the larger leadership domain. Our integrative review of this literature reveals connections with moral philosophy that provide a useful framework to better differentiate the specific moral content (i.e., deontology, virtue ethics, and consequentialism) that undergirds ethical, authentic, and servant leadership respectively. Taken together, this integrative review clarifies points of integration and differentiation among moral approaches to leadership and delineates avenues for future research that promise to build complementary rather than redundant knowledge regarding how moral approaches to leadership inform the broader leadership domain.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Wisdom in Virtue: Pursuit of Virtue Predicts Wise Reasoning About Personal Conflicts

Alex C. Huynh, Harrison Oakes, Garrett R. Shay, & Ian McGregor
Psychological Science
Article first published online: October 3, 2017


Most people can reason relatively wisely about others’ social conflicts, but often struggle to do so about their own (i.e., Solomon’s paradox). We suggest that true wisdom should involve the ability to reason wisely about both others’ and one’s own social conflicts, and we investigated the pursuit of virtue as a construct that predicts this broader capacity for wisdom. Results across two studies support prior findings regarding Solomon’s paradox: Participants (N = 623) more strongly endorsed wise-reasoning strategies (e.g., intellectual humility, adopting an outsider’s perspective) for resolving other people’s social conflicts than for resolving their own. The pursuit of virtue (e.g., pursuing personal ideals and contributing to other people) moderated this effect of conflict type. In both studies, greater endorsement of the pursuit of virtue was associated with greater endorsement of wise-reasoning strategies for one’s own personal conflicts; as a result, participants who highly endorsed the pursuit of virtue endorsed wise-reasoning strategies at similar levels for resolving their own social conflicts and resolving other people’s social conflicts. Implications of these results and underlying mechanisms are explored and discussed.

Here is an excerpt:

We propose that the litmus test for wise character is whether one can reason wisely about one’s own social conflicts. As did the biblical King Solomon, people tend to reason more wisely about others’ social conflicts than their own (i.e., Solomon’s paradox; Grossmann & Kross, 2014, see also Mickler & Staudinger, 2008, for a discussion of personal vs. general wisdom). Personal conflicts impede wise reasoning because people are more likely to immerse themselves in their own perspective and emotions, relegating other perspectives out of awareness, and increasing certainty regarding preferred perspectives (Kross & Grossmann, 2012; McGregor, Zanna, Holmes, & Spencer, 2001). In contrast, reasoning about other people’s conflicts facilitates wise reasoning through the adoption of different viewpoints and the avoidance of sociocognitive biases (e.g., poor recognition of one’s own shortcomings—e.g., Pronin, Olivola, & Kennedy, 2008). In the present research, we investigated whether virtuous motives facilitate wisdom about one’s own conflicts, enabling one to pass the litmus test for wise character.

The article is here.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Trouble With Sex Robots

By Laura Bates
The New York Times
Originally posted

Here is an excerpt:

One of the authors of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics report, Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, England, said there are ethical arguments within the field about sex robots with “frigid” settings.

“The idea is robots would resist your sexual advances so that you could rape them,” Professor Sharkey said. “Some people say it’s better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”

Like the argument that women-only train compartments are an answer to sexual harassment and assault, the notion that sex robots could reduce rape is deeply flawed. It suggests that male violence against women is innate and inevitable, and can be only mitigated, not prevented. This is not only insulting to a vast majority of men, but it also entirely shifts responsibility for dealing with these crimes onto their victims — women, and society at large — while creating impunity for perpetrators.

Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab. Since that suggestion sounds ridiculous, why does the idea of providing sexual abusers with lifelike robotic victims sound feasible to some?

The article is here.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Real Problem With Hypocrisy

By Jillian Jordan, Roseanna Sommers, and David Rand
The New York Times - Gray Matters
Originally posted January 13, 2017

What, exactly, is the problem with hypocrisy? When someone condemns the behavior of others, why do we find it so objectionable if we learn he engages in the same behavior himself?

The answer may seem self-evident. Not practicing what you preach; lacking the willpower to live up to your own ideals; behaving in ways you obviously know are wrong — these are clear moral failings.

Perhaps. But new research of ours, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science (and in collaboration with our colleague Paul Bloom), suggests a different explanation. We contend that the reason people dislike hypocrites is that their outspoken moralizing falsely signals their own virtue. People object, in other words, to the misleading implication — not to a failure of will or a weakness of character.

The article is here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Moral Grandstanding

Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke
Philosophy and Public Affairs
First published June 2016

Kurt Baier wrote that “moral talk is often rather repugnant. Leveling moral accusations, expressing moral indignation, passing moral judgment, allotting the blame, administering moral reproof, justifying oneself, and, above all, moralizing—who can enjoy such talk?” (1965: 3). When public moral discourse is at its best, we think that these features (if they are present at all) are unobjectionable. But we also think that, to some degree, Baier is right: public moral discourse—that is, talk intended to bring some matter of moral significance to the public consciousness—sometimes fails to live up to its ideal. Public moral discourse can go wrong in many ways. One such way is a phenomenon we believe to be pervasive: moral grandstanding (hereafter: “grandstanding”). We begin by developing an account of grandstanding. We then show that our account, with support from some standard theses of social psychology, explains the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public moral discourse. We conclude by arguing that there are good reasons to think that moral grandstanding is typically morally bad and should be avoided.

The article is here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Has capitalism has turned us into narcissists?

Terry Eagleton
The Guardian
Originally published August 3, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In our own time, the concept of happiness has moved from the private sphere to the public one. As William Davies reports in this fascinating study, a growing number of corporations employ chief happiness officers, while Google has a “jolly good fellow” to keep the company’s spirits up. Maybe the Bank of England should consider hiring a jester. Specialist happiness consultants advise those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes on how to move on emotionally. Two years ago, British Airways trialled a “happiness blanket”, which turns from red to blue as the passenger becomes more relaxed so that your level of contentment is visible to the flight attendants. A new drug, Wellbutrin, promises to alleviate major depressive symptoms occurring after the loss of a loved one. It is supposed to work so effectively that the American Psychiatric Association has ruled that to be unhappy for more than two weeks after the death of another human being can be considered a mental illness. Bereavement is a risk to one’s psychological wellbeing.

It is no wonder that the notion of happiness has been taken into public ownership, given the remarkable spread of spiritual malaise around the globe. Around a third of American adults and close to half in Britain believe that they are sometimes depressed. Even so, more than half a century after the discovery of antidepressants, nobody really knows how they function.

The article is here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fostering Collective Growth and Vitality Following Acts of Moral Courage

Sheldene Simola
Journal of Business Ethics


The purpose of this article is to explore a critical paradox related to the expression of moral courage in organizations, which is that although morally courageous acts are aimed at fostering collective growth, vitality, and virtue, their initial result is typically one of collective unease, preoccupation, or lapse, reflected in the social ostracism and censure of the courageous member and message. Therefore, this article addresses the questions of why many organizational groups suffer stagnation or decline rather than growth and vitality following acts of moral courage, and what can be done to ameliorate this outcome. A general system, relational psychodynamic perspective through which organizational group members might receive and respond to acts of moral courage is offered, and seven insights emerging from this perspective for fostering collective growth and vitality following acts of moral courage are provided.

The article is here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Is Character Necessary for Moral Behavior?

Angela Knobel
The Virtue Blog
Originally posted October 5, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

With these definitions in hand, we can reformulate our question. Is a given virtue necessary for the kind of morally good action characteristic of that virtue? For example, is the virtue of courage necessary for courageous actions? Is the virtue of kindness necessary for kind actions? (Let’s leave aside questions about the so-called “unity” of the virtues — that is, for instance, whether one can be courageous but unkind, or kind but cowardly.) At first blush, it might seem obvious that the answer is “no”: people who aren’t particularly courageous sometimes do courageous things, and people who aren’t particularly kind sometimes do kind things. This is true. But do they do these things in the same way that courageous or kind people do them?

The blog post is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morality (Book Chapter)

Jonathan Haidt and Selin Kesebir
Handbook of Social Psychology. (2010) 3:III:22.

Here is a portion of the conclusion:

 The goal of this chapter was to offer an account of what morality really is, where it came from, how it works, and why McDougall was right to urge social psychologists to make morality one of their fundamental concerns. The chapter used a simple narrative device to make its literature review more intuitively compelling: It told the history of moral psychology as a fall followed by redemption. (This is one of several narrative forms that people spontaneously use when telling the stories of their lives [McAdams, 2006]). To create the sense of a fall, the chapter began by praising the ancients and their virtue - based ethics; it praised some early sociologists and psychologists (e.g., McDougall, Freud, and Durkheim) who had “ thick ” emotional and sociological conceptions of morality; and it praised Darwin for his belief that intergroup competition contributed to the evolution of morality. The chapter then suggested that moral psychology lost these perspectives in the twentieth century as many psychologists followed philosophers and other social scientists in embracing rationalism and methodological individualism. Morality came to be studied primarily as a set of beliefs and cognitive abilities, located in the heads of individuals, which helped individuals to solve quandaries about helping and hurting other individuals. In this narrative, evolutionary theory also lost something important (while gaining much else) when it focused on morality as a set of strategies, coded into the genes of individuals, that helped individuals optimize their decisions about cooperation and defection when interacting with strangers. Both of these losses or “ narrowings ” led many theorists to think that altruistic acts performed toward strangers are the quintessence of morality.

The book chapter is here.

This chapter is an excellent summary for students or those beginning to read on moral psychology.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What This White-Collar Felon Can Teach You About Your Temptation To Cross That Ethical Line

Ron Carucci
Originally posted June 28, 2016

The sobering truth of Law Professor Donald Langevoort’s words silenced the room like a loud mic-drop: “We’re not as ethical as we think we are.” Participants at Ethical Systems recent Ethics By Design conference were visibly uncomfortable…because they all knew it was true.

Research strongly indicates people over-estimate how strong their ethics are. I wanted to learn more about why genuinely honest people can be lured to cross lines they surely would have predicted, “I would never do that!”

The article is here.