The Moral Psychology Handbook


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Sign in Create an account. Syntax Advanced Search. About us. Editorial team. John Doris ed. Oxford University Press John M. Doris Washington University in St. The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences. Experimental Philosophy: Ethics, Misc in Metaphilosophy. Moral Motivation in Meta-Ethics. Moral Responsibility, Misc in Meta-Ethics. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar. Request removal from index. Translate to english.

Revision history. Google Books no proxy Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver. So one popular egoist hypothesis has been dealt a serious blow: high empathy subjects were more likely to help whether or not they could expect their behavior to be socially scrutinized.

At least in some circumstances, empathy appears to facilitate helping independently of the threat of social sanction. Another popular egoistic strategy for explaining the link between empathy and helping behavior is the aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis , which maintains that the empathy evoked by witnessing someone in need is an unpleasant or aversive experience, and that helping is motivated by the desire to diminish that aversive experience.

If this is right, Batson maintains, people in a high empathy condition will sometimes have two quite different ways of reducing the aversive experience—they can help the person in need or they can simply leave. Which strategy a person adopts will depend, in part, on how difficult or costly it is to depart the scene. If escape is easy, people will be more likely to take that option, while if leaving is more difficult people will be more likely to help, since that is a less costly way of ending the aversive experience.


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If, on the other hand, the empathy-altruism hypothesis is correct and empathy leads to genuinely altruistic motivation, we would expect people in a high empathy condition to help whether escape is easy or hard, since only helping will satisfy an altruistic desire. Altruism and egoism both allow that even in the absence of empathy, an emotionally disturbing need situation will produce feelings of personal distress, thus they would both predict that people in a low empathy condition will be more inclined to help when escape is difficult, and less inclined when escape is easy.

Batson summarizes these predictions in Tables 4 and 5 Batson To test these predictions, Batson and his associates conducted a total of six experiments. In one of these experiment 1 in Batson et al. Observer subjects were told that their task would be to form and report an impression of how Elaine performs under aversive conditions.

On the tape, Elaine is clearly finding the shocks very uncomfortable, and after her second trial at doing the task, she explains to Martha, the assistant administering the shocks, that she is unusually sensitive to mild electric shocks because of a childhood trauma. Martha then suggests that perhaps the observer subject might be willing to help Elaine by taking her place, and the experimenter asks whether the subject is willing to do that. To manipulate the level of empathy that subjects feel for Elaine, subjects were given a copy of a personal values and interests questionnaire, allegedly filled out by Elaine, in order to help them form an impression of her performance.

The results, given in Table 6, clearly exhibit the pattern predicted by the empathy-altruism hypothesis, not the pattern predicted by the aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis. In additional experiments, Batson and his associates used four different techniques to create the low- and high-empathy conditions, two techniques for manipulating ease of escape, and two different need situations Batson et al.

The results in all of these experiments exhibited the same pattern.

1. Introduction: What is Moral Psychology?

They reasoned that, under these circumstances, even if high empathy subjects had an ultimate desire to help, this desire might well be overridden by the desire to avoid a series of very painful shocks. As expected, the pattern of results in this experiment fit the pattern in Table 4. These are impressive findings. Over and over again, in well designed and carefully conducted experiments, Batson and his associates have produced results which are clearly compatible with the predictions of the empathy-altruism hypothesis, as set out in Table 5, and clearly incompatible with the predictions of the aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis, as set out in Table 4.

As we noted earlier, the empathy-altruism hypothesis allows that high empathy subjects may have desires that are stronger than their ultimate desire to help the target, and the desire to avoid a painful electric shock is a very plausible candidate. There is, however, a problem to be overcome before we conclude that the aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis cannot explain the findings that Batson and his associates have reported.

Perhaps high empathy subjects believe that if they escape they will continue to be troubled by the thought or memory of the distressed target and thus that physical escape will not lead to psychological escape. Indeed, in cases where empathy is strong and is evoked by attachment, this is just what common sense would lead us to expect. Do you really believe that if your mother was in grave distress and you left without helping her you would not continue to be troubled by the knowledge that she was still in distress?

This is, of course, an empirical question, and a cleverly designed experiment by Stocks and his associates Stocks et al. The aversive-arousal reduction hypothesis has been one of the most popular egoistic strategies for explaining helping behavior. Thus far we have been following Batson , and much of the philosophical tradition, in viewing the debate as having only two sides. If all human behavior is ultimately motivated by self-interested desires, then the egoist wins; if some human behavior is motivated by ultimate desires for the well-being of other people, then the altruist wins.

But recent work has made it clear that these are not the only two options. A third option, which Batson et al. However, that helping behavior would not be altruistic, since it is not motivated by an ultimate desire for the well-being of others, and it would not be egoistic, since it is not ultimately motivated by self-interested desires. If there are actions that are motivated in this way, then egoism is false.

And if some helping behavior is egoistically motivated and the rest is motivated by an ultimate desire to adhere to a set of moral principles, then altruism is false as well. So once we recognize principlism as a possibility, it is clear that egoism and altruism might both be false.

Another option is that some helping behavior might not be motivated by ultimate desires at all. The habitual system leads to actions that have the highest expected value based on previous life experiences rather than possible consequences. As a result, helping behavior may be repeated in the future and in circumstances in which motivating factors like the promise of rewards are absent if the behavior has been rewarded in the past.

Like the habitual system, the Pavlovian system produces behavior with the highest expected value based on the past. If it is indeed the case that some helping behavior is produced by the habitual or Pavolvian systems, then egoism is false. And if some helping behavior is egoistically motivated and the rest is produced by the habitual and Pavlovian systems, then altruism is also false. In some summaries of his work, Batson maintains that his research program has resolved the age-old debate between egoists and altruists and established that humans can and do sometimes behave altruistically:.

In study after study, with no clear exceptions, we find results conforming to the pattern predicted by the empathy-altruism hypothesis, the hypothesis that empathic emotion evokes altruistic motivation. At present, there is no egoistic explanation for the results of these studies…. Pending new evidence or a plausible new egoistic explanation for the existing evidence, the empathy-altruism hypothesis, however improbable, seems to be true.

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Moral Psychology Handbook - Oxford Scholarship

We cannot endorse this assessment. In our view, Batson and his collaborators have accomplished a great deal. They have formulated a sophisticated altruist hypothesis that can be tested against competing egoist hypotheses, and they have designed experiments which strongly suggest that many of those egoist hypothesis are false. But, as we have just argued, to show that altruism is true, it is not enough to show that egoism is false. In addition, the defender of altruism must show that non-egoistic episodes of helping behavior are not the product of the habitual or Pavlovian systems.

On a more positive note, we believe that Batson and associates have shown quite conclusively that the methods of experimental psychology can move the debate forward. Indeed, in our view, Batson and his associates have made more progress in this area during the last three decades than philosophers using the traditional philosophical methodology of a priori arguments buttressed by anecdote and intuition have made in the previous two millennia. Their work powerfully demonstrates the utility of empirical methods in moral psychology.

Given that moral disagreement—about abortion, say, or capital punishment—so often seems intractable, is there any reason to think that moral problems admit objective resolutions? Mackie supposed that his argument undermines moral realism , the view that, as Smith 9, cf. This notion of objectivity, as Smith recognizes, requires convergence in moral views—the right sort of argument, reflection and discussion is expected to result in very substantial moral agreement Smith 6.

While moral realists have often taken pretty optimistic positions on the extent of actual moral agreement e. It is immediately evident that the relative merits of these competing explanations cannot be fairly determined without close discussion of the factors implicated in actual moral disagreements. This research is required not only to accurately assess the extent of actual disagreement, but also to determine why disagreement persists or dissolves.

Richard Brandt, who was a pioneer in the effort to integrate ethical theory and the social sciences, looked primarily to anthropology to help determine whether moral attitudes can be expected to converge under idealized circumstances. It is of course well known that anthropology includes a substantial body of work, such as the classic studies of Westermarck and Sumner [] , detailing the radically divergent moral outlooks found in cultures around the world. But as Brandt —4 recognized, typical ethnographies do not support confident inferences about the convergence of attitudes under ideal conditions, in large measure because they often give limited guidance regarding how much of the moral disagreement can be traced to disagreement about factual matters that are not moral in nature, such as those having to do with religious or cosmological views.

With this sort of difficulty in mind, Brandt undertook his own anthropological study of Hopi people in the American southwest, and found issues for which there appeared to be serious moral disagreement between typical Hopi and white American attitudes that could not plausibly be attributed to differences in belief about nonmoral facts. This play is rough, and birds seldom survive long. Brandt Advocates of ethnographic projects will likely respond—not unreasonably, we think—that judicious observation and interview, such as that to which Brandt aspired, can motivate confident assessments of evaluative diversity.

Suppose, however, that Moody-Adams is right, and the methodological difficulties are insurmountable. We do not think that such a stalemate obtains, because we think the implicated methodological pessimism excessive. Serious empirical work can, we think, tell us a lot about cultures and the differences between them. The appropriate way of proceeding is with close attention to particular studies, and what they show and fail to show. As Brandt —2 acknowledged, the anthropological literature of his day did not always provide as much information on the exact contours and origins of moral attitudes and beliefs as philosophers wondering about the prospects for convergence might like.

Here we will focus on some cultural differences found close to our home, differences discovered by Nisbett and his colleagues while investigating regional patterns of violence in the American North and South. Although these groups differ in many respects, they manifest important commonalities:. A key aspect of the culture of honor is the importance placed on the insult and the necessity to respond to it.

An insult implies that the target is weak enough to be bullied. Since a reputation for strength is of the essence in the culture of honor, the individual who insults someone must be forced to retract; if the instigator refuses, he must be punished—with violence or even death. According to Nisbett and Cohen 5—9 , an important factor in the genesis of southern honor culture was the presence of a herding economy.

In areas where farming rather than herding dominates, cooperation among neighbors is more important, stronger government infrastructures are more common, and resources—like decidedly unportable farmland—are harder to steal. In such agrarian social economies, cultures of honor tend not to develop. The American South was originally settled primarily by peoples from remote areas of Britain. Since their homelands were generally unsuitable for farming, these peoples have historically been herders; when they emigrated from Britain to the American South, they initially sought out remote regions suitable for herding, and in such regions, the culture of honor flourished.

In the contemporary South, police and other government services are widely available and herding has all but disappeared as a way of life, but certain sorts of violence continue to be more common than they are in the North. Nisbett and Cohen maintain that patterns of violence in the South, as well as attitudes toward violence, insults, and affronts to honor, are best explained by the hypothesis that a culture of honor persists among contemporary white non-Hispanic southerners.

In support of this hypothesis, they offer a compelling array of evidence, including:. Two experimental studies—one in the field, the other in the laboratory—are especially striking. The letters purported to be from a hardworking year-old Michigan man who had a single blemish on his otherwise solid record. In the other version of the letter, the applicant revealed that he had been convicted of motor vehicle theft, perpetrated at a time when he needed money for his family.

Nisbett and his colleagues assessed letters of response, and found that southern employers were significantly more likely to be cooperative and sympathetic in response to the manslaughter letter than were northern employers, while no regional differences were found in responses to the theft letter. One southern employer responded to the manslaughter letter as follows:. As for your problems of the past, anyone could probably be in the situation you were in. Your honesty shows that you are sincere…. I wish you the best of luck for your future. You have a positive attitude and a willingness to work.

These are qualities that businesses look for in employees. Once you are settled, if you are near here, please stop in and see us. After an initial sample was collected, the unsuspecting subject walked down a narrow corridor where an experimental confederate was pretending to work on some filing.

A few minutes after the incident, saliva samples were collected and analyzed to determine the level of cortisol—a hormone associated with high levels of stress, anxiety and arousal, and testosterone—a hormone associated with aggression and dominance behavior. As Figure 1 indicates, southern subjects showed dramatic increases in cortisol and testosterone levels, while northerners exhibited much smaller changes. The two studies just described suggest that southerners respond more strongly to insult than northerners, and take a more sympathetic view of others who do so, manifesting just the sort of attitudes that are supposed to typify honor cultures.

We think that the data assembled by Nisbett and his colleagues make a persuasive case that a culture of honor persists in the American South.

In short, it seems to us that the culture of honor is deeply entrenched in contemporary southern culture, despite the fact that many of the material and economic conditions giving rise to it no longer widely obtain. So if there is little ground for expecting convergence in the case at hand, there is probably little ground in a good many others.

They maintain that while those data do indicate that northerners and southerners differ in the strength of their disapproval of insult-provoked violence, they do not show that northerners and southerners have a real moral disagreement. They go on to argue that the work of Abarbanell and Hauser provides a much more persuasive example of a systematic moral disagreement between people in different cultural groups.

Abarbanell and Hauser focused on the moral judgments of rural Mayan people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. They found that people in that community do not judge actions causing harms to be worse than omissions failures to act which cause identical harms, while nearby urban Mayan people and Western internet users judge actions to be substantially worse than omissions. Barrett et al. As we said at the outset, realists defending conjectures about convergence may attempt to explain away evaluative diversity by arguing that the diversity is to be attributed to shortcomings of discussants or their circumstances.

If this strategy can be made good, moral realism may survive an empirically informed argument from disagreement: so much the worse for the instance of moral reflection and discussion in question, not so much the worse for the objectivity of morality. While we cannot here canvass all the varieties of this suggestion, we will briefly remark on some of the more common forms.

For instance, seemingly moral disputes over the distribution of wealth may be due to perceptions—perhaps mostly inchoate—of individual and class interests rather than to principled disagreement about justice; persisting moral disagreement in such circumstances fails the impartiality condition, and is therefore untroubling to the moral realist.

The Moral Psychology Handbook

One can advocate a violent honor code without going in for special pleading. Full and vivid awareness of relevant nonmoral facts. Moral realists have argued that moral disagreements very often derive from disagreement about nonmoral issues. According to Boyd ; cf. Brink —3; Sturgeon ,.

Is this a plausible conjecture for the data we have just considered? We find it hard to imagine what agreement on nonmoral facts could do the trick, for we can readily imagine that northerners and southerners might be in full agreement on the relevant nonmoral facts in the cases described.

Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches

We think it much more plausible to suppose that the disagreement resides in differing and deeply entrenched evaluative attitudes regarding appropriate responses to cuckolding, challenge, and insult. But this is of little help for the expedient under consideration, since the disagreement-in-nonmoral-fact response apparently requires that one can disentangle factual and moral disagreement.

It is of course possible that full and vivid awareness of the nonmoral facts might motivate the sort of change in southern attitudes envisaged by the at least the northern moral realist. Were southerners to become vividly aware that their culture of honor was implicated in violence, they might be moved to change their moral outlook. We take this way of putting the example to be the most natural one, but nothing philosophical turns on it. If you like, substitute the possibility of northerners endorsing honor values after exposure to the facts. The burden of argument, we think, lies with the realist who asserts— culture and history notwithstanding —that southerners would change their mind if vividly aware of the pertinent facts.

Realists may contend that much moral disagreement may result from failures of rationality on the part of discussants Brink — Obviously, disagreement stemming from cognitive impairments is no embarrassment for moral realism; at the limit, that a disagreement persists when some or all disputing parties are quite insane shows nothing deep about morality. What is needed to press home a charge of irrationality is evidence of cognitive impairment independent of the attitudinal differences, and further evidence that this impairment is implicated in adherence to the disputed values.

In this instance, as in many others, we have difficulty seeing how charges of abnormality or irrationality can be made without one side begging the question against the other. Admittedly, our conclusions must be tentative. Rather, we hope to have given an idea of the empirical work philosophers must encounter, if they are to make defensible conjectures regarding moral disagreement. Progress in ethical theorizing often requires progress on difficult psychological questions about how human beings can be expected to function in moral contexts.

It is no surprise, then, that moral psychology is a central area of inquiry in philosophical ethics. It should also come as no surprise that empirical research, such as that conducted in psychology departments, may substantially abet such inquiry. Nor then, should it surprise that research in moral psychology has become methodologically pluralistic , exploiting the resources of, and endeavoring to contribute to, various disciplines. Here, we have illustrated how such interdisciplinary inquiry may proceed with regard to central problems in philosophical ethics. Introduction: What is Moral Psychology?

Thought Experiments and the Methods of Ethics 3. Moral Responsibility 4. Virtue Ethics and Skepticism About Character 5. Egoism vs. Altruism 5. Altruism 6. Moral Disagreement 7. With this in mind, problems in ethical theory choice making reference to moral psychology can be framed by two related inquiries: What empirical claims about human psychology do advocates of competing perspectives on ethical theory assert or presuppose?

How empirically well supported are these claims? Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows: If Program A is adopted, people will be saved. A second group of subjects was given an identical problem, except that the programs were described as follows: If Program C is adopted, people will die. For example: A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a dead chicken. Moral Responsibility A philosophically informed empirical research program akin to the one just described is more than a methodological fantasy.

One variation read as follows: Imagine that in the next century we discover all the laws of nature, and we build a supercomputer which can deduce from these laws of nature and from the current state of everything in the world exactly what will be happening in the world at any future time. Virtue Ethics and Skepticism About Character To date, empirically informed approaches to moral psychology have been most prominent in discussions of moral character and virtue.

The Obedience Experiments Milgram subjects repeatedly punished a screaming victim with realistic but simulated electric shocks at the polite request of an experimenter. Famously, Hobbes gave this answer: No man giveth but with intention of good to himself, because gift is voluntary; and of all voluntary acts, the object is to every man his own good; of which, if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence or trust, nor consequently of mutual help.

Rachels 81 [O]ne central assumption motivating ethical theory in the Analytic tradition is that the function of ethics is to combat the inherent egoism or selfishness of individuals. Schroeder Philosophers since Socrates worried that humans might be capable of acting only to promote their own self-interest. On the basis of these and other findings, Batson 95 argues that there is indeed an empathy-helping relationship; feeling empathy for a person in need increases the likelihood of helping to relieve that need. Escape Empathy Low High Easy 0. Figure 1. Bibliography Abarbanell, Linda and Marc D.

Barnes, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Barrett, H. Bolyanatz, A. Crittenden, D. Fessler, S. Fitzpatrick, M. Gurven, J. Henrich, M. Kanovsky, G. Kushnick, A. Pisor, B. Scelza, S. Stich, C. Zhao and S. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey eds. Kruglanski and Wolfgang Stroebe, eds. Besser-Jones and Michael Slote eds. The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences.

The chapters cover major issues in moral psychology, including moral reasoning, character, moral emotion, positive psychology, moral rules, the neural correlates of ethical judgment, and the attribution of moral responsib The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences. The chapters cover major issues in moral psychology, including moral reasoning, character, moral emotion, positive psychology, moral rules, the neural correlates of ethical judgment, and the attribution of moral responsibility.

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