Are Philosophers Hypocrites?

Are Philosophers Hypocrites?


“On no issue did ethicists show unequivocally better behavior than the two comparison groups,” the researchers reported.

An article in The Atlantic— The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists— sums up research by Eric Schwitzgebel (UCR), Joshua Greene (Harvard), Sara Bleich (Johns Hopkins), Eric Schulz (Max Planck Inst.), Michael Koenigs (Wisconsin), and others that shows that philosophers blend right into the crowd when it comes to behavior, despite their training and particular beliefs.

Sixty percent of the ethicists rated eating red meat as “morally bad,” but only 27 percent said they didn’t regularly eat it. Ethicists and political philosophers were no more likely to vote than other kinds of professors, nor were ethicists more likely to donate blood or register as organ donors… 

Another study shows ethicists to be especially delinquent library patrons:compared with other philosophy texts, “contemporary ethics books of the sort likely to be borrowed mainly by professors and advanced students of philosophy” were roughly 50 percent more likely to be permanently missing…

Philosophers are also vulnerable to biases… [e.g., order bias]

Readers may recall the post “Philosophers: Disappointingly Normal” from last month, which trod similar ground.

(image: from a Where’s Waldo? book. Yes, Waldo is in there somewhere.)

 

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Michael Shepanski
6 years ago

I was wondering recently whether there are any non-hypocritical utilitarians:
http://stepbackstepforward.com/2015/05/06/hypocrisy-in-general-utilitarianism-in-particular/Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
6 years ago

Hypocrisy and akrasia are, of course, not the same thing.

Should we expect philosophers to be more morally motivated than anyone else? I merely expect that we (by and large) have more accurate moral views than others. And that we (at least, the more consequentialist-minded among us) prioritize our moral efforts so as to get the most moral bang for our buck. To that end, it would be interesting to see whether philosophers’ philanthropic behaviour tends to systematically differ from those of non-philosophers. (A fairly large number, again esp. of consequentialists, seem to be involved in the “effective altruism” movement, for example.)Report

M
M
6 years ago

I may not act in a morally better way than those who are not moral philosophers, but I can’t be beat in spotting Waldo. I had that dude pegged in moments.Report

DesertMG
DesertMG
6 years ago

I wrote about this phenomenon in an article, Gregory, M. (2009). Ethics education and the practice of wisdom. Teaching Ethics, 9(2), 105-130. There I observed that “the virtue-less professor of ethics cannot be called a hypocrite, as her professional responsibilities do not include exhorting students to live well,” and that “approaches to ethics education in college and graduate school tend to be so concerned with disciplinary knowledge and rigorous analysis – tend, that is, to be so discursive and academic – as to be unconcerned with whether or not the students (or faculty) are living ethical lives; while approaches to ethics education below college, which are mostly programs in values education, are so concerned with shaping students’ ethical beliefs and conduct that they tend to be glaringly un-academic: lacking in historical perspective, philosophical depth and in methods of value inquiry.”Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
6 years ago

So, non-cognitivism is true?Report

M
M
6 years ago

18 seconds to find the Socrates-head-person. But I never would have noticed him without being told he was there. (A lesson is in there about what moral philosophers are good for, even if they are assholes.)Report

Daniel Muñoz
Daniel Muñoz
6 years ago

I’m curious, are epistemologists any better than the rest of us at avoiding unreasonable beliefs? Do philosophers of action take more efficient means to their ends? My gut response is definitely ‘no’, but for whatever reason, I’m still a little surprised (and disappointed) that ethicists aren’t more ethical.

(Potential research program: do philosophers of perception have better eyesight?)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

As a philosopher of physics, I consider it my professional duty to set an example by conforming to all the laws of physics.Report

mm
mm
6 years ago

Some philosophers of biology are dead.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

I’ve always understood the philosopher who studied ethics to be interested in a certain body of knowledge just like anyone else who chooses to specialize in a subject. I’m not sure that I’m surprised (or even think it is bad) that having a large and detailed body of knowledge about debates about the good would make anyone better at practical action. That I can tell a coherent history about how conceptions of virtue and well-being have changed in the last 2,500 years in the Western world doesn’t really seem to have much bearing on what I do as a person or even what sorts of views I hold in my own life about the practice that I’m an expert in. Why expect this?Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

This seems to illustrate the lack of sincerity in large parts of philosophy. Facts are not faced. Perhaps there is a correlation with lack of progress.Report

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

On the bright side, philosophers of religion are far more religious than other philosophers.Report

Dan Dennis
Dan Dennis
6 years ago

There are three sorts of philosophers who teach and write on ethics.

1) Those who take the approach of ejrd in post 11 above
2) Those who take ethics to be a personal enquiry into how they should live. (They usually take it to be the case that the answer generalises, so the reasoning and conclusions they come up with apply to others too). This group subdivides into
a. Those who get the right answer
b. Those who get the wrong answer

Those behaving unethically are those in group 2b, some of those in group 1 (whose ethics are independent of their topic of study), and those in group 2a whilst suffering from weakness of will.Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

Dan – Thanks for this superb summary. I shall steal it immediately.Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

Hi ejrd

“That I can tell a coherent history about how conceptions of virtue and well-being have changed in the last 2,500 years in the Western world doesn’t really seem to have much bearing on what I do as a person or even what sorts of views I hold in my own life about the practice that I’m an expert in. Why expect this?”

Because philosophy is supposed to be a love of wisdom, or at least the search for it. The idea that philosophy can be studied free of any impact on our lifestyle is quite a new one, and requires either a lack of sincerity or a lack of belief in philosophy.

Is is a complicated business though. One could argue that is only the people in group 2a of Dan’s list that could ever act unethically, since only they know how they should be behaving. The rest would be merely ignorant. This would be a more traditionally ‘mystical’ way of looking at it. Knowledge would be the solution for ethics.Report