Are Ethicists Ethical?

by Harry on June 16, 2009

My colleagues will like this one:


Most of the 277 survey respondents reported no positive correlation between a professional focus on ethics and actual moral behavior. Respondents who were ethicists themselves shied away from saying that ethicists behave worse than those outside the discipline – generally reporting that ethicists behave either the same or better – but non-ethicists were mostly split between reporting that ethicists behave the same as or worse than others.

Even those ethicists who did rank their peers’ behavior as better than average said their moral behavior is just barely better than average – hardly a ringing endorsement.

The paper does not control for the possibility that the joke widespread within the profession that ethicists are the least ethical philosophers might have influenced responses (influencing ethicists to protest too much, and others to go with the joke).

{ 53 comments }

1

vivian 06.17.09 at 12:36 am

So how ethical is the emperor’s nose, anyway?

2

Witt 06.17.09 at 12:46 am

In all seriousness, why would there necessarily be a connection between professional knowledge and personal behavior? It’s fairly well established that you can be a thoughtful and insightful psychologist and yet a lousy spouse. You can be an expert in the theory, methodology, and practice of early childhood education, and yet a terrible parent.

There are many instances in which we recognize that a person might have spent time (many years, even) becoming well-versed in a field and its theories, and even be a wise and useful instructor of those theories, and yet fail when it comes to putting theory into practice. Being an ethical and moral person is generally acknowledged to take a fair amount of ongoing effort. Is it really that much of a surprise that ethicists are similar to other professional fields in that it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk?

(I’m not being snarky here, so if these are well-trod talking points in the mainstream-vs-ethicists debate, I apologize.)

3

sash 06.17.09 at 12:57 am

From the talk of some of my old professors, the view that ethicist were less ethical was not a joke. Its outside of my field, but one can imagine any number of psychological reasons why a less than ethical philosopher would be attracted to ethics. Or consider the case of nozick and rent control. http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/001281.html

4

qb 06.17.09 at 1:23 am

A methodologically bankrupt paper in experimental philosophy? How is that even possible.

5

Righteous Bubba 06.17.09 at 1:27 am

Also psychiatrists are crazy. Any other opposite professions? Biologists are a cabal of secret robots maybe?

6

Perezoso 06.17.09 at 1:44 am

Ethicists are academia’s sunday school teachers, and about as useless. I suspect they rate about the same on the Virtu-o-meter, which is to say, not-so-great–not quite like Nabakov trench-coat level, but close

7

qb 06.17.09 at 1:50 am

“Those who can’t do, teach” comes to mind. High school guidance counselors? Poverty-stricken financial advisers? Ignorant epistemologists? Oooh… Catholic priests!

8

Jim Birch 06.17.09 at 2:06 am

Maybe the ethicists realise just how flimsy the structure is?

9

Jamie 06.17.09 at 2:28 am

Geologists are less earthy than other scientists.

10

Gadzooks 06.17.09 at 3:10 am

Sometimes navel gazing has its uses – or the sociology of professionals can tell us that professionals conduct themselves in ways at considerable variance from what is regarded as professional conduct. Think about academics at annual meetings. How often during the various sessions do academics behave in ways that would have them screaming for the law if they received this treatment from their students. No, I wouldn’t trust somebody who is an ethicist to exhibit anything but the normal weasel behavior that is customary for modern organizational types.

11

freight train 06.17.09 at 3:38 am

It’s sensible enough – too much familiarity with the ins and outs of subtle ethical theories makes it easy to find a convincing theoretical rationalization for almost any behavior you wish to partake in. It’s not as if being a professional ethicist gives you access to the One Correct Code of Ethics. It just teaches you how to manipulate ethical concepts, and that skill can be used to any end.

12

Walt 06.17.09 at 3:46 am

Astronomers are made of star-stuff, so they’re like the anti-ethicists.

13

Matt McIrvin 06.17.09 at 4:18 am

Physicists are crappy pool players.

14

Martin Bento 06.17.09 at 4:48 am

Could this be influenced by the employment available to applied ethicists? Bioethics is quite lucrative, I gather, but I assume employment is contingent on reaching conclusions well-suited to the interests of your employers – biotech companies or health insurers. Ethics is one of the few areas of philosophy I know of where lucrative non-academic employment is available, and this may itself have a corrupting influence that reaches beyond those who get, and perhaps even those who seek, such employment.

15

qb 06.17.09 at 5:12 am

Apparently we’ve already made the leap from a single and rather dubious survey to searching for reasons a conclusion it doesn’t really support might be true. Speaking of rationalization…

16

andthenyoufall 06.17.09 at 5:57 am

Two extremely important meta-ethicistical considerations.

First, there are plausible situations where for each ethicist, his or her most adamant positions are distinct minority positions in the field as a whole. Thus, say, 10% are ethical vegetarians, another 10% anarchists, 10% have read “The Fountainhead,” 10% favor organ lotteries, etc. In this sort of extreme situation each ethicist might think that 90% of ethicists are depraved, but that “the folk” are much more virtuous. (I suggest that we call this first issue the paradox of Contra Sed cycles.)

Second, one reasonable answer to the question “why are ethics valuable” is that ethicists are trying to come up with better answers to questions like “ought one to P?” When ethicists are engaged in cutting-edge ethical research rather than apologetics for existing moral values, we should expect them to have correct beliefs about what is permissible and impermissible; even if ethicists were perfectly ethical (by their own, correct, standards), those still influenced by older, worse ethical ideas would erroneously see them as unethical. Therefore, error (on the part of non-ethicists) is possible.

So between the possibility of Contra Sed cycles and the Error’s Possibility Theorem, we shouldn’t read too much into the results of this poll. Indeed, it may be impossible for any poll to answer questions about whether ethicists behave ethically.

17

Zamfir 06.17.09 at 6:43 am

Qb, but it’s fun!

18

bad Jim 06.17.09 at 7:40 am

It’s a commonplace that a cobbler’s kids are ill-shod, tailors’ kids are ill-dressed, carpenters’ walls stand aslant and their doors hang askew. The rule perhaps is that when you’re at home you’re not at work any more.

19

Martin Bento 06.17.09 at 9:16 am

I still say there is something fundamentally disturbing about an “ethicist-for-hire”. Moralists as mercenaries? Has this been controversial within the field itself?

20

Chris Bertram 06.17.09 at 9:48 am

Of course Rousseau was way ahead of the game here (on the lines of #11 above). From the 2nd Discourse:

bq. Nothing but such general evils as threaten the whole community can disturb the tranquil sleep of the philosopher, or tear him from his bed. A murder may with impunity be committed under his window; he has only to put his hands to his ears and argue a little with himself, to prevent nature, which is shocked within him, from identifying itself with the unfortunate sufferer. Uncivilised man has not this admirable talent; and for want of reason and wisdom, is always foolishly ready to obey the first promptings of humanity. It is the populace that flocks together at riots and street-brawls, while the wise man prudently makes off. It is the mob and the market-women, who part the combatants, and hinder gentle-folks from cutting one another’s throats.

21

qb 06.17.09 at 10:57 am

11, 20:

Rationalization involves not just coming up with plausible-sounding reasons, but also lowering one’s standards for what counts as good reasoning. With regard to morality, ethicists excel at the former, but non-ethicists, I venture to guess, are more prone to the latter. One way lies casuistry, the other, dogmatism.

22

qb 06.17.09 at 11:05 am

Also? The Genovese murder seems like a pretty compelling indictment of Rousseau’s claims about Uncivilised man’s identification with unfortunate sufferers!

23

JoB 06.17.09 at 12:17 pm

to 18: … and blogger’s comment threads ill-moderated.

24

rea 06.17.09 at 12:23 pm

Are lawyers, legal, or merely skilled in circumventing the law? Are doctors, generally speaking, healthy?

I must admit to knowing a computer programer who is bipolar, and having taken a leak standing next to a plumber.

25

Liam 06.17.09 at 12:51 pm

There could be an ethically significant reason for being modest in response to such polls.

26

Chris Bertram 06.17.09 at 1:58 pm

Well qb, my Rousseau reference was offered in good humour rather than in a spirit of scholarship, although it is hard to think that those indifferent in the Genovese case were other than civilized city dwellers. I have to say, though, that your #21 shows a touchingly naive faith in the idea that those with sophisticated reasoning capacities can’t put them at the service of self-interest whilst entertaining the self-deceived belief that they are acting from reasons of morality.

27

Chris Bertram 06.17.09 at 2:00 pm

Incidentally also qb – let me remind you that you are in violation of our comments policy through your failure to supply a valid email address.

28

novakant 06.17.09 at 2:16 pm

let me remind you that you are in violation of our comments policy through your failure to supply a valid email address.

So are half the commentators on this and other threads – it doesn’t look very good if you only bring up a widely ignored rule when you don’t like somebody’s comments.

29

Chris Bertram 06.17.09 at 2:32 pm

Novakant: “So are half the commentators on this and other threads”

Well you can’t possibly know that.

Here’s the relevant part of the comments policy:

_Commenters should normally provide a valid, working email address. *Such addresses are only visible to members of the CT collective (and not to casual readers).* Commenters who provide addresses like noone@nowhere.net may find their comments deleted without warning._

“it doesn’t look very good if you only bring up a widely ignored rule when you don’t like somebody’s comments.”

Actually, I think qb’s comments are fine. But I was looking to see who s/he was (out of interest) and noticed the violation. I’ve now notice that you, novakant, another long-time commenter (whose comments are also quite acceptable content-wise) are also in breach. So you should conform too.

30

qb 06.17.09 at 2:44 pm

Chris,

I think I took your Rousseau reference in the spirit in which it was intended, but your response prompted me to look again. There seems to be an ambiguity in the distinction he was trying to make. On the one hand is the philosopher/non-philosopher distinction, and the other is the civilized/uncivilized distinction.

I was taking the quote as an attack on the follies of philosophical sophistication; unless you think the observers of the Genovese murder were all philosophers, it’s a hard to see why they’re not counterexamples to his claims about the “foolish promptings of humanity” being the domain of the populace, the mob, and the market women.

I definitely wasn’t denying that ethicists are capable of self-interested self-deception about their reasons for action. I was only saying that non-ethicists are perfectly capable of doing the same thing, albeit through a different mechanism. Perhaps I should have been more clear. Subtle reasoning gets sophisticated reasoners into trouble, but non-subtle reasoning gets unsophisticated reasoners into just as much (cf. casuistry versus dogmatism).

And, um, it is a valid email address–I use it often, though it isn’t my primary account–so I’m not sure what you’re on about there. I checked it a moment ago, just to make sure it’s still up and running this morning. What made you think it isn’t valid?

31

CK Dexter 06.17.09 at 2:57 pm

Leiter’s comment on this one was bewildering: “not sure whether it distinguishes between Kantians, who (with some honorable exceptions of course!) tend to behave pretty badly (they are blinded by righteousness), from other kinds of moral philosophers.”

Seriously, is there anyone more blinded by righteousness than consequentialists? Kantians, on the contrary, are very quaint in their cautiousness: hey, guys, maybe we shouldn’t torture, huh?

32

Chris Bertram 06.17.09 at 2:57 pm

All fair points …

On the email, I just assumed that it must be an invented address on the basis of the domain. But I’ll take your word that it exists, works etc. Sorry for being suspicious.

33

qb 06.17.09 at 3:01 pm

No problem.

34

novakant 06.17.09 at 3:15 pm

Well, ok I misunderstood the way email addresses are displayed, point taken. But unless you have tried emailing each and every commentator on CT, you have no way of knowing either, because anybody can grab a valid email address off the net in three seconds. As you point out, in the whoever many years of commenting here and elsewhere, I have always used a fake email address, because I get enough emails every day and only give it out when absolutely necessary for business or private purposes. To my knowledge, nobody ever tried to email me anyway and I don’t see the point if we can talk in an open forum like this. I also didn’t see any purpose in creating some secondary email account which I would never look at again, just to conform with a formality, but if it makes you happy, I will do so.

35

Glen Tomkins 06.17.09 at 3:20 pm

The Ring of Gyges

In the Brothers Karamazov there’s this great throw-away line to the effect that “a lawyer is a conscience for hire”. I guess the theory behind this quote, as well as the mistrust people have for folks who profess objective expertise in good behavior, is that someone skilled at dissecting the reasoning behind moral behavior will be good at generating rationales for any sort of horrible behavior he might care to indulge. People seem to fear that lawyers and ethicists will use their powers of generating such rationales as a sort of invisibility cloak, or ring of Gyges, that will enable them to get away with any sort of crime because they can always justify anything they might do.

Such fears are obviously not justified. People are so cynical about such self-justifying rationalization, probably because we all do it ourselves on an amateur basis, that skill at ethical calculus hardly works like magic. The outliers who seem to make this work for a time, people like Rove who manage to convince people that they know some secret “math” that can sell any policy, however stupid and vile, to the public, are the exceptions that prove the rule. These people are working a con, they don’t possess any sort of enduring or reproducable wisdom even about what line of ethical rationalizations work at creating the appearance of high moral behavior, much less what actual moral behavior would look like. They get lucky in an election or two, and for a season they are treated as oracles. But their very reputation as master manipulators of the perception of right and justice eventually brings out everyone’s cynicism and thoroughly justified suspicion that they are just the latest con artists, and that suspicion ruins their “magic”. Your average academic ethicist, on the other hand, is a theoretician, not someone who professes to apply arguments about what is right to actually winning public policy arguments. I’m sure there’s a bit of category jumping in the real world, with some academics gunning to be the next Karl Rove, but I think you can differentiate with tolerable clarity between your “applied ethicists”, like Rove, and harmless theoreticians. The latter suffer in public estimation because of the failure to make this distinction, as people just assume from the manipulative nature of the folks they see most loudly instructing us on moral behavior, that anyone who professes anything like that approach must also be a similar Tartuffe.

Perhaps the ethicists could avoid this problem by returning to their roots. Back when I was in college, I had this unlooked-for opportunity present itself to steal whatever I wanted from several tables of used and remaindered books stored in a room to which I had the key. My budget at the time being what it was, I was definitely tempted to take advantage of this no-risk/no-cost opportunity to add to my library. I had just decided to not do this — because it would be wrong — when my eye alighted on a paperback copy of “The Nicomachean Ethics” the bookstore was trying to unload for 25 cents. I couldn’t resist this opportunity to commit the philosophically perfectly crime, sort of a secular humanist’s version of stealing a Bible, so I pocketed the thing. Imagine my horror when I finally got around to reading it, and discovered that this version of the science of “ethics” was entirely descriptive, and not at all prescriptive. Stealing wasn’t actually against any ethical rules prescribed in Aristotle’s work, so I hadn’t committed any sort of perfect crime, I had just done something that the Nicomachean Ethics would describe as petty, and the prospect of being a small person weighs on the mind more heavily than the notion that one is some sort of amoral mastermind, above ethical rules of conduct, which actually has its appeal.

Perhaps ethics would be a more useful endeavor if it merely tried to describe the human condition, instead of discussing prescriptive theories of behavior as anything but revealing of the character of those who hold them. Aristotle was engaged in a sort of intellectual and characterological pathology, not any sort of intervention, but such modesty of ends is more realistic, given our means. Of course it would be a con game to pretend that this enterprise is terribly scientific, but perhaps con games are all we are capable of, and you need to pick a good con to work, rather than one with harmful consequences.

36

lemuel pitkin 06.17.09 at 3:44 pm

The Genovese murder

… is largely a myth.

37

qb 06.17.09 at 4:22 pm

36: Granted. But it’s the most familiar example of the otherwise well-documented effect in social psychology. In this context, I think the historical details of the case are less important than the independently plausible picture it paints of non-ethicists’ ability to rationalize their immoral behavior.

38

lemuel pitkin 06.17.09 at 4:28 pm

the independently plausible picture

Except I’m a New Yorker, and I don’t find the picture plausible at all.

39

qb 06.17.09 at 4:54 pm

Well, New York is a special place. Good for you, times two.

40

Tim Wilkinson 06.17.09 at 4:56 pm

Glen @35
Stealing wasn’t actually against any ethical rules prescribed in Aristotle’s work, so I hadn’t committed any sort of perfect crime, I had just done something that the Nicomachean Ethics would describe as petty, and the prospect of being a small person weighs on the mind more heavily than the notion that one is some sort of amoral mastermind, above ethical rules of conduct, which actually has its appeal.

Perhaps ethics would be a more useful endeavor if it merely tried to describe the human condition, instead of discussing prescriptive theories of behavior as anything but revealing of the character of those who hold them. Aristotle was engaged in a sort of intellectual and characterological pathology, not any sort of intervention, but such modesty of ends is more realistic, given our means.

But Aristotle was getting up to a bit of rhetoric. I think there is (certainly there was) a strand of ‘virtue ethics’ on more-or-less Aristotelian lines, that was connected to study of what were known as ‘thick’ moral concepts. The standard objection to such an approach, I imagine, is going to be a (G.E.) Moorean one along the lines of rhetorical questions like ‘who says I shouldn’t be “small” [or whatever]?’ Are these really unitary concepts or disguised moral generalisations? You could develop a line of argument parallel to the ‘amoral mastermind’ fantasy (and which you could make subtle and convoluted to an arbitrary degree) which says ‘I alone am so self-confident or cleverly cynical (or whatever) that I can cope with being small in order to get an advantage – indeed maybe I am not so small after all, etc…

41

Barbar 06.17.09 at 5:12 pm

In this context, I think the historical details of the case are less important than the independently plausible picture it paints of non-ethicists’ ability to rationalize their immoral behavior.

I’m pretty impressed by your ability to rationalize your use of a fictitious example to illustrate a point.

42

qb 06.17.09 at 6:04 pm

Thanks Babar, and I appreciate the irony, but I notice you didn’t quote the “well documented effect in social psychology” part of what I was saying. It’s called the bystander effect, and you can look that up for yourself. I am a philosopher, though, and in my field the use of fictitious examples for illustrative purposes is fairly unremarkable. The point I was illustrating is just that non-ethicists are perfectly capable of rationalizing without resort to the nuaces of ethical theory; frankly, I’m surprised that anyone would disagree, but it seems that some people here are strongly committed to the view that ethicists’ powers of rationalization far exceed the norm. It is especially surprising given the paucity of empirical evidence for that conclusion, but hey, I guess we can agree to disagree so long as we’ve only got anecdotes and firmly held convictions to back ourselves up.

43

lemuel pitkin 06.17.09 at 6:21 pm

non-ethicists are perfectly capable of rationalizing without resort to the nuaces of ethical theory

The relative capacity of trained ethicists and mere proles to do this is precisely what’s under discussion here, tho. And you brought up the non-existent “observers of the Kitty Genovese murder” not once but twice in support of your view. Saying “everyone knows I’m right, so I don’t need evidence” may be an acceptable mode of argument in your branch of philosophy but it isn’t here.

44

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.17.09 at 6:39 pm

Ordinary people do rationalize their selfishness and indifference all the time, in a dogmatic sort of way, like qb said. Professionals help, they popularize these dogmas.

45

qb 06.17.09 at 7:08 pm

You’re right that Genovese case was a poorly chosen example since it leaves itself open to the charge of “that didn’t happen,” although, to try to make this point clear yet again, the kind of thing which was supposed to have happened in that case does in fact happen with great regularity in a wide range of similar cases, so it’s hard for me to see the “that didn’t happen” accusation as anything but a diversion. (Seriously: look up the bystander effect. Psychologists often say, without a hint of reservation, that it’s one of the best supported effects in the field.)

You’re also right that the main discussion here is about relative capacities for rationalization between ethicists and non-ethicists, although if you’ll remember, I brought up the Genovese case in response to Rousseau’s decidedly absolutist view that philosophers rationalize and the “uncivilized” just plain don’t. (A view on which the bystander research casts considerable doubt even when we discount Genovese.)

Anyway, perhaps we can agree that both ethicists and non-ethicists have significant capacities for rationalization, and that the only thing which remains be shown is whether the former really do outstrip the latter. But I was certainly not saying that ‘everyone knows I’m right, so I don’t need evidence.’ The reason I know I wasn’t saying that was because I explicitly denied it. To wit:

I guess we can agree to disagree so long as we’ve only got anecdotes and firmly held convictions to back ourselves up.

Now, burden-of-proof arguments are notoriously difficult to settle, but suffice it to say that at this point, I don’t really care. No one has presented evidence that ethicists are better at rationalizing than non-ethicists, and no one has presented evidence that they are not. As I said above, I “venture to guess” that non-ethicists are prone to sloppy reasoning about moral issues, and so too to dogmatism, but if you really want to take issue with my guesses, the burden of proof really is yours.

46

Glen Tomkins 06.17.09 at 7:26 pm

Tim Wilkinson@40

I always assume that Aristotle was up to, not just a bit of rhetoric, but whole hog irony. He was the heir of those flagrant and notorious ironists, Socrates and Plato, and was known in antiquity for his dialogues, whose prose style was especially admired. The best guess is that everything his reputation rested on is lost, and the stuff of his that survives is a more or less organized set of lecture notes. You pretty much have to make up a context to put these inherently scattered ruminations into.

While you therefore could, because the work doesn’t supply its own context, and wasn’t (to all appearances) meant to stand on its own, put the Nicomachean Ethics into the context of what our latter-day ethicists do for a living, I certainly wouldn’t. I see a line straight from this work to the overtly comic “Characters” by Aristotle’s pupil, Theophrastus. If you follow that line, you’ll see that the ancients are way ahead of your analysis. Their comedies centered on the figure of the panourgos, this dynamic character, often a slave or merchant or other low-life, who is willing to do anything, however trashy, and usually involving some clever and elaborate schem, but all in the service of pure id. Think Basil Fawlty, but, at least in the case of Aristophanes, XXX-rated. The panourgos gets all the best lines, and usually wins in the end (Trashiness and injustice are rewarded in comedy, while justice and nobility are punished in tragedy. Maybe Basil Fawlty isn’t the purest example of comedy because we moderns won’t let injustice triumph, but instead we pull our punches and insist that Basil be humiliated in the end.), but the audience doesn’t end up at all tempted to emulate trashy behavior.

How/why does this work? Beats me. But I would guess it has to do with there simply being more universal buy-in to common ideas of what behavior is trashy, as compared to what is right or wrong, and also it being easier to get people to the self-recognition of trashy behvior, as opposed to evil behvior, that you need for catharsis. We can identify with Basil Fawlty, and will strive to not be like him for having him shoved in our faces, but presenting Hitler to us with any force or immediacy doesn’t do anything except make us want to change the channel. The usual strategy to depicting Hitler is to make him a stick figure, safely free of any dramatic immediacy. Even weak tea like “Downfall” gets criticized for giving him any sort of life. And getting an audience to self-recognize in Hitler — well, that would get you thrown in jail for Holocaust Denial in some countries.

So, yes, maybe Aristitotle had a moralistic agenda, but that wouldn’t be an ethicist’s agenda. And he seems to me to have wanted to pursue this agenda through comedy rather than the discussion of ethical theories. At any rate, I think that the Nicomachean Ethics is a definite genre-bender, in modern terms, however you slice it.

47

Tim Wilkinson 06.17.09 at 8:54 pm

And politicians and journalists and everyone in between…(popularise it and do it). Does anyone know of any proper psych studies using any measures relating to self-deception/rationalisation/delusion/… in the general population? And out of interest any with data concerning occupation, power, status?

[just noticed middle para of #40 is supposed to be italicised quote]

48

Tim Wilkinson 06.17.09 at 9:03 pm

[Previous @47 was in response to Henri Vieuxtemps @44: Ordinary people do rationalize their selfishness and indifference all the time, in a dogmatic sort of way, like qb said. Professionals help, they popularize these dogmas.]

Glen Tomkins @46 inneresting, I’ll have a ponder

49

alex 06.18.09 at 8:28 am

Does anyone know of any evidence that anyone perceives reality other than through a screen of rationalisation and self-serving delusion? I know that’s what gets me through the day…

50

JoB 06.18.09 at 1:08 pm

alex, do you know it or do you merely rationalize your delusional perceptions into thinking you know it? Also – any question that requests any evidence pertaining to anything is apt to be quite hilarious.

51

Daniel S. Goldberg 06.18.09 at 4:05 pm

Speaking as an applied ethicist, I am puzzled why anyone would presume that living a professional life as an ethicist would produce more virtuous people, anymore than living a life as a professional healer would produce more healthy people, or living a life as a professional problem-solver (i.e., an engineer or a process consultant) would produce people with better intimate relationships, etc.

One might hope that this would be the case, but I don’t see any prima facie reason to think it would be. Then again, part of the analysis depends on what we take to be “ethical behavior.” Adopting an aretaic perspective might give a very different sense of what qualifies as the good than if the latter is specified according to right acts or consequences.

52

Paul Gibbons 06.18.09 at 4:11 pm

While I can’t comment methodologically on the study, there is a parallel in (of all places) the Organisational Psychology field. Generally, when a cohort of individuals (say in a training program) self-evaluate using a set of distinctions (say by using a communications skills questionnaire) and later self evaluate having studied the subject (say during the course) – they will often rate themselves lower post-course.

For example, they might evaluate as a ‘good listener’ (who would say otherwise), but once they begin to practice and see examples of what ‘good listening’ is they find out they are very poor listeners (and I’ve never met anyone who listens as well as they think they do).

In a sense, their education raises their standards before it raises their skills.

Are professionals who study ethics posessed of higher standards and more aware of their own (and humanity’s) “akrasia”.

Paul

53

Paul Gibbons 06.18.09 at 4:24 pm

Tim, There are dozens, nay hundreds, of studies studying the link between religiousity and ethics. These usually involve micro-behaviours such as turning in a wallet found on the street.

As I recall, two things are often found:
– no particular correlation between (say belief, or church attendance, or other independant variable) and ethical behavior
– or a ‘u-shaped’ one – where the most atheistic and the most deeply religious are the most ethical

Forgive the lack of cites and the vagueness, but it has been a full decade since I swam in those particular waters.

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