What’s the Latest Development?
Not as firm as you probably think they are, according to mounting evidence that describes the ways in which our ethical principles are subject to some rather whimsical alternations. In a recent experiment, subjects were primed to either think abstractly (about the future) or concretely (about the present). “Those who were primed to think abstractly were more accepting of a hypothetical surgery that would kill a man so that one of his glands could be used to save thousands of others from a deadly disease. In other words, a very simple manipulation of mind-set that did not change the specifics of the case led to very different responses.”
What’s the Big Idea?
While experiments can sometimes generate contrived examples, their correlates in real life are serious: Whether to fire a single employee for the good of the company, for example. “Regardless of whether you endorse following the rules or calculating benefits, knowing that our instincts are so sensitive to outside factors can prevent us from settling on our first response. …[W]e can encourage consistency in moral reasoning by viewing issues from many angles, discussing them with other people and monitoring our emotions closely. In recognizing our psychological quirks, we just might find answers we can live with.”
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