Tag Archives: ethics

The Macbeth Effect and Moral Colours

The Macbeth effect is the tendency for people who have acted or thought in an immoral or unethical manner to want to clean themselves physically as a kind of surrogate for actual moral cleansing.

Researchers looking at this effect wondered about other interesting characteristics of moral psychology which led them to devising a test for implicit links between different colours and morality. For example, the colour black is commonly connected with evil and white with good, and the researchers wondered whether this would present itself. It did:

Psychologists have long known that if people are presented with, say, the word “blue” printed in a blue font, they will be able to state the colour of the font much faster than if the word “red” is printed in the same blue font.

The study conducted by Mr Sherman and Dr Clore presented words of moral goodness, like “virtuous” and “honesty”, and of badness, like “cheat” and “sin”, in either black or white fonts on a computer screen. As they report in Psychological Science, the two researchers found that when “good” words were presented in black it took the participants about 510 milliseconds to state the colour of the word. When these same words were presented in white it took roughly 480 milliseconds—a significant difference. A similar effect was seen with “bad” words. Responding to white ones took around 525 milliseconds, whereas black ones needed only about 500. These results are remarkably similar to those found when words are printed in colours that clash with their meaning.

Non-Voting Political Philosophers and Stealing Ethicists

When I read that political philosophers vote less often than other philosophers (and political scientists) I was reminded of the book Can a Robot be Human?.

This book touches on the logic behind voting, and comes to the conclusion that – for an individual – it is pointless because no election has ever been decided on one person’s vote. Of course, this is negated if you announce this to the world or persuade others not to vote too.

My first thought was that political scientists believe in the ideal democracy and therefore vote; political philosophers realise the truth, so don’t waste their time. Then again, rational choice theory says that voter turnout should be zero!

Also from The Splintered Mind: Ethics books are more widely stolen from  libraries than other philosophy books.

via Mind Hacks

Aristotle’s Moral Virtues and Vices

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, moral virtues and their extremes are discussed. That is to say, personal characteristics and the extremes thereof. These extremes – or vices – are two of the three pillars of virtue, the third of which is The Golden Mean, or the Virtuous Mean. This mean is the position on the ‘scale’ where a well-balanced, morally virtuous person would lie.

Here’s that scale:

Vice of Deficiency Virtuous Mean Vice of Excess
Cowardice Courage Rashness
Insensibility Temperance Intemperance
Illiberality Liberality Prodigality
Pettiness Munificence Vulgarity
Humble-mindedness High-mindedness Vain-gloriness
Want of Ambition Right Ambition Over-ambition
Spiritlessness Good Temper Irascibility
Surliness Friendly Civility Obsequiousness
Ironical Depreciation Sincerity Boastfulness
Boorishness Wittiness Buffoonery
Shamelessness Modesty Bashfulness
Callousness Just Resentment Spitefulness

Adapted from the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy’s General Introduction to Aristotle.

An abridged version of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is available from Squashed Philosophers; a site I’ve written about previously.

Interview With a Blind Homeless Man

Interview With a Blind Homeless Man, by Bobby “Revellian” Revell:

I don’t get upset when someone calls me old, stupid or whatever because I don’t know what it really means when describing a person.

This great post reads almost like what I call the doctrine of the atheists; morals and ethics come from within. This short story shows that religion – to some – can act as a free-pass to acting immoral and antithetical to what they’ve been taught.

No my friend, you are the lucky one. If you could see, you’d know why people are cruel and treat others based solely on what they look like. People who see, live their lives based on it.

Ethical Impulses & The Moral Instinct

Evolution has endowed us with ethical impulses. Do we know what to do with them?

In Steven Pinker’s New York Times article, The Moral Instinct, this question is raised and discussed as he takes us on a guided tour of ‘moral psychology‘ – a recently invigorated field.

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

via Mind Hacks (Pinker is the author of The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct, both books on my 2008 reading list.)