At the Pacific Division meeting of the APA last week, Josh Rust and I offered passersby chocolate for completing questionnaires on the moral behavior of ethics professors.
We did a preliminary study of this at the Eastern APA. It also connects to a general interest I have in the relationship between moral reflection and moral behavior.
The survey came in two versions. The key questions in Version 1 were:
1. Take a moment to consider the various ethics professors you have known, both as colleagues and in the student-mentor relationship. As best you can determine from your own experience, do professors specializing in ethics tend, on average, to behave morally better, worse, or about the same as philosophers not specializing in ethics? (Please circle one number below.)
[The numbers then ran from 1 ("substantially morally better") to 4 ("about the same") to 7 ("substantially morally worse").]
2. [same question, but with the comparison group being "non-academics of similar social background"].
For comparison, identical questions were asked about "specialists in metaphysics and epistemology (including philosophy of mind)".
Version 2 was similar, but it asked the respondent to think about the particular ethicist in your department whose name comes next in alphabetical order after yours (looping around from Z to A if necessary). [Thanks to Jonathan Ichikawa for formulating this question, in a comment on this blog!] Again, for comparison, identical questions were asked about the metaphysics and epistemology specialist in your department. In both versions we collected demographic information about area of specialization, rank, type of institution, and graduate school.
277 people completed questionnaires out of about 1300 registered for the meeting. There were some cute stories, too. Among them: An eminent ethicist who shall remain nameless grabbed a chocolate from our table without completing the survey, then dashed off, saying "I'm being evil!" I don't think she realized that her behavior was actually pertinent to the content of the questionnaire!
Preliminary results: Ethicists think ethicists behave slightly better than philosophers specializing in other areas. Non-ethicists think they behave the same.
On Version 1, ethicists' mean response for the question comparing ethicists' behavior to the behavior of non-ethicists was 3.44 (where 4 is "about the same") (t-test vs. 4, p = .01). M&E specialists got a mean of 4.26. On Version 2, they rated an arbitrarily chosen ethicist in their department better, compared to others in their department, than an arbitrarily chosen M&E specialist (3.38 vs. 3.98) (p = .05)
On Version 1, non-ethicists rated ethicists at an even 4.00 vs. other philosophers. (About 1/3 said they behaved better, about 1/3 said they behaved worse.) On Version 2, non-ethicists rated both the ethicists and the M&E specialists at about 3.5 compared to others in their departments (showing a slight bias toward favoring individuals over groups, but no better opinion of ethicists overall).
More thoughts (including analysis by rank and institution type) to come soon!