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Rationality & Moral Judgement – Simon Laham

Rationality & Moral Judgement – A view from Moral Psychology. Talk given at EA Global Melbourne 2015. Slides here.

Simon Laham - QandAWhat have we learned from an empirical approach to moral psychology – especially in relation to the role of rationality in most every day morality?
What are some lessons that the EA movement can take from moral psychology?

Various moral theorists over the years have had different emphasis on the roles that the head and heart play in moral judgement. Early conceptions of the role of the head in morality were that it drives moral judgement. A Kantian might say that the head/reasoning drives moral judgement – when presented with a dillema of some kind, the human engages with ‘system 2’ like processes in a controlled rational nature. An advocate of a Humean model may favor the idea that emotion or the heart (‘system 1’ thinking) plays the dominant role in moral judgement. Modern psychologists often take a hybrid model where both system 1 and system 2 styles of thinking are at play in contributing to the way we judge right from wrong.

Moral Judgement & Decision making is driven by a variety of factors:

  • Emotions (e.g., Valdesolo & DeSteno, 2006)
  • Values (e.g., Crone & Laham, 2015)
  • Relational and group membership concerns (e.g., Cikara et al., 2010)

Across a wide range of studies, a majority of people do not consistently apply abstract moral principles – Moral judgments are not decontextualized, depersonalized and asocial (i.e., not System 2)
Simon Laham - Rationality & Moral Judgement - Effective Altruism Global Melbourne 2015
Not only do people inconsistently apply rationality in moral judgments, many reject the idea that consequentialist rationality should have any place in the moral domain.

  • Appeals to consequentialist logic may backfire (Kreps and Monin, 2014)
  • People who give consequentialist justifications for their moral positions are viewed as less committed and less authentic

Is trying to change people’s minds the best way to expand the EA movement?
Moral judgment is subject to a variety of contextual effects. Knowledge of such effects can be used to ‘nudge’ people towards utilitarianism (see Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

‘Practical’ take-home
Things beside rationality matter in morality and people believe that things beside rationality should matter.
So:
(a) present EA in a manner that does not trade utilitarian options off against deeply held values, identities, or emotions
(b) use decision framing techniques to ‘nudge’ people towards utilitarian choices

 


Consider watching Simon’s talk at the festival of dangerous ideas about his book ‘The Joy of Sin‘.

Also Simon wrote an article for Huffington post where he says : “I confess it, I am a sinner. I begin most days in a haze of sloth and lust (which, coincidentally, is also how I end most days); gluttony takes hold over breakfast and before I know it I’m well on my way to hell and it’s not yet 9 a.m. Pride, lust, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth and anger, the seven deadly sins, these are my daily companions.

And you? Are you a sinner?

The simple fact is that we all sin (or rather ‘sin’), and we do it all the time. But fear not: the seven deadly sins aren’t as bad for you as you might think.”


Simon Laham BandWSimon Laham is a senior lecturer in the psychology department at Melbourne University. He has worked over the last 8 years on the psychology of morality from the point of view of experimental social psychology.
Key research questions : How do we make moral judgments? How do others influence what we do?

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