Heap of Links

1. A sculpture of Edgar Allen Poe, crafted by philosopher Stefanie Rocknak (Hartwick), will soon be unveiled at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South in Boston. This story’s a triple win: philosopher, art, and, of course, aptonym. Here’s other sculptural work by Rocknak. And here’s a post about how Poe anticipated the idea of the Big Bang.
2. A search for resources for teaching students how to read philosophy.
3. A new blog, Second Shift, features several philosophers and other academics and “is aimed at bringing academic feminist analysis (broadly construed) into conversation with politics and pop culture.”
4. “In a new study, researchers used a smartphone app to track moral and immoral acts committed or witnessed by more than 1,200 people as they went about their days,” reports Wired and the New York Times.
5. “I’ve always been puzzled by the way that some moral philosophers create extraordinarily far fetched examples and then ask us to see what sorts of intuitions we have about these cases. I am skeptical that any intuitions we might dig up contain important ethical insights. But I’m also puzzled by those who argue from abstract general principles, for example, about the unethical treatment of causing other animals to suffer or fail to flourish, without knowing many details about particular animals and what might constitute their well-being.”– from an interesting and wide-ranging interview with Lori Gruen (Wesleyan).
6. Say goodbye to the “American Philological Association.”
7. The New Yorker’s Alex Ross on the Frankfurt School and its influence.
8. Several philosophers are name-checked in these reflections on how environmental considerations may alter our understanding of human progress.
9. “Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat?” asks the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article featuring Nick Bostrom (Oxford) and others.
10. Sometimes it ain’t a bad move.

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Mark Alfano
9 years ago

It’s good to see morality being studied outside of the lab. Since I took the time to write up a brief reaction to this Science article already, I figured I might as well post it in the comments here:

1) One serious drawback of this study is that it lets participants define what counts as moral/immoral behavior. But people can be wrong about that. Is playing a game with your friend a moral act? I’m guessing a lot of participants would think not, but strengthening and sustaining important normative relationships like friendship is an incredibly important part of a moral life. Is going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant morally wrong? Most participants would say no, I’m guessing, though ethicists like Peter Singer would disagree. Of course, it would be extremely difficult to overcome this drawback; you’d have to follow participants around surreptitiously and see whether they were reporting accurately, and you’d have to have some independent criterion for what counts as (im)moral, which of course we lack.

2) Another, potentially more serious, drawback is that they seem to have made no attempt to control for lack of moral mindfulness, as Peggy DesAutels would call it. A lot of immoral acts occur because people simply fail to notice that a moral act is called for. They walk right past someone in need of aid, as in the Wang Yue case, without even noticing the person. If that kind of failure is a common part of human (im)morality, then the study completely missed a huge swath of human (im)morality.

3) The Moral Foundations Theory classifications are interesting. Of course, Haidt and his colleagues want liberty/oppression to be more associated with conservative than with liberal ideology, so this doesn’t look so great for him.

4) They didn’t use a sufficiently fine-grained measure of religiosity. They just asked people “How religious are you?” then classified everyone who gave a non-zero answer in one box and everyone else in the other. Thus, they ended up transforming a very complex variable into a categorical y/n variable. As Azim Shariff would tell you, you only start to see differences between religious people and non-religious people if you also find out what kind of God they believe in. In particular, people who believe in a loving, forgiving God are less moral (more inclined to cheat) than people who believe in a punitive, angry God.

5) The effect sizes for happiness were enormous. Very impressive.

6) The contagion and licensing effects are interesting, though I’m a bit dubious about whether the effects are for committing (im)moral acts later in the day or for reporting that one’s committed (im)moral acts later in the day.