reflections in philosophy of psychology, broadly construed
(with Josh Rust) is now forthcoming in Mind.Thanks to all the folks at the 2007 Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association who stopped by to express their views on the behavior of ethicists!
You have cross the line now, Schwitzgebel. Prepare to feel the wrath of the ethicists!In the meantime, congratulations,
This is good news. Any ethicist who earns consistently high marks for ethical behavior should arouse our suspicions: he can only be either a con artist or a paragon of the status quo.
Badda, I continue to hope and expect that I'll find a measure on which ethicists clearly behave better, on average.Neil: Ethicists have mostly reacted positively to neutrally to my research -- at least in interactions with me. I'm sure there are some that will be upset or offended, but it's a minority. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to quantify this graciousness....
Eric, I think I found your answer:http://www.emilypost.com/
You're right, Badda, what I need is an independent coder with a fine-tuned sense of graciousness. Do you think "Emily" would volunteer? Would it be rude to ask?
I'm surprised to say that you expect to find evidence that ethicists behave better. You didn't mispeak?It has been suggested (I can't recall by who, or what evidence was cited) that people go into a particular area because they have a problem there; that is, a personal problem. Hence more psychiatrists are mentally ill than average; apparently this carries over to other areas of psychology. Perhaps ethicists go into the area motivated by doubts about the binding force of morality? Studying it may not cure those doubts.How are you operationalizing 'ethicist'? There is a big difference between meta-ethics, which is an area which - on the standard construal - is normatively neutral, normative ethics and applied ethics. Have you tried parcelling out the branches, to see what you get? Relatedly, have you had a look at standard deviations and clustering? Suppose people go into ethics to defend their views: we might get more extremes of what are commonly regarded as good and bad behavior. The result would be a mean that is much different from non-ethicists, but a bigger SD.
Following on what Neil said, maybe people become ethicists because what generally passes for morality strikes them as fundamentally flawed. Thus it speaks well of the profession that survey data doesn't rank them high for moral behavior -- assuming ethicists live according their ideals, ideals which break with the status quo. But if they only ever produce works congruent with the status quo, whether they live according to those ideals or not, then ethics amounts to nothing more than stating the obvious.
Thanks for the continuing thoughtful comments, Neil and Badda! I agree that some ethicists, probably especially metaethicists, are drawn to the field by something like the thought "what is this crazy 'ethics' thing?". However my sense is that the large majority of ethicists are convinced that morality is important. I don't have systematic data on this, though.If there is a substantial proportion of ethicists who think there's something problematic about ethics, then does seem likely that that would show up in the data either in the form of bimodal distributions or at least larger response variance. So far I've only been able to analyze one set of data looking for that sort of thing -- the data on voting behavior. To my surprise not only did ethicists and political philosophers vote at the same rate as other professors but also the standard deviation of their vote rate was exactly the same. I had thought that both scoffers who voted not at all or rarely and conscientious every-litte-election voters would be overrepresented among ethicists and political philosophers. Not so, evidently.Josh and I have operationalized "ethicist" by looking at how philosophers describe their areas of specialization on their websites.Josh and I have questionnaire results that I've just started analyzing in which ethicists classify themselves as specializing in one or more of the following: metaethics, normative ethics, applied ethics. I also ask for them to choose which normative ethical view is closest to their own: deontological, consequentialist, virtue ethics, skeptical, or no settled position. It will be interesting to see how things break down by group.
I have been reading this blog for some time. This is good news. What seems interesting about this study is not that ethics fail at acting ethically; rather, it is that the opinion of ethicists does seem to differ somewhat from the opinion of non-ethicists. There are at least some ethicists who believe that ethicists, on the whole do behave better. To me, the failure might be expected (for reasons that the other posters have mentioned)-- but, if we expect the failure, the question is why people in this field expect the failure *not* to happen. I think this might make for an interesting follow-up. I think it's fantastic that an empirical study of sorts was done on this topic.
Thanks for the kind comment, Iveta!
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