Thursday, 29 August 2013

Another Comment on Empirical Research Relating to Ethics and Morality: The Moral Behavior is not Necessarily so Moral at All

So, once again I have dared to post a small comment on an article in the mighty PLOS ONE open access science journal. Last time, as some of you may recall, it was a piece of psychology research claiming demonstrated predictive links (indeed!) between very particular emotional features and equally very particular types of moral judgements, to which I had some to my mind rather devastating comments based on the authors' apparent lack of insight into elementary ethical theory, quite besides the gap between the conclusion reached and the methodology applied. This time, it is once again psychology, albeit the thesis isn't quite as bold, but still interesting enough to probe. In Does “Science” Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior, Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich claim to have demonstrated through a series of experiments that people who think about (yes indeed, merely having in their thoughts) science are more likely to exhibit moral behaviour – the independently supported explanation of this being that science is regularly associated with positive moral features. Also here, however, the argumentation of the article is lacking and, in the end, deeply flawed due to lack of basic competence in ethical theory or moral philosophy. It is also flawed logically, independently of that, due to imprecise concepts being employed in the analysis. My conclusion is that while the study may confirm the rather trivial claim that people who think about moral features will engage more with (perceived) moral features in practical decision making and action, the engagement demonstrated in the studies may very well be immoral from the perspective of the moral features the subjects were aware of and/or engaged with. Read more here.