Ethical disputes arise over differences in the content of the ethical beliefs people hold on either side of an issue. One person may believe that it is wrong to have an abortion for financial reasons, whereas another may believe it to be permissible. But, the magnitude and difficulty of such disputes may also depend on other properties of the ethical beliefs in question—in particular, how objective they are perceived to be. As a psychological property of moral belief, objectivity is relatively (...) unexplored, and we argue that it merits more attention. We review recent psychological evidence which demonstrates that individuals differ in the extent to which they perceive ethical beliefs to be objective, that some ethical beliefs are perceived to be more objective than others, and that both these sources of variance are somewhat systematic. This evidence also shows that differences in perceptions of objectivity underpin quite different psychological reactions to ethical disagreement. Apart from reviewing this evidence, our aim in this paper is to draw attention to unanswered psychological questions about moral objectivity, and to discuss the relevance of moral objectivity to two issues of public policy. (shrink)
Recent research has investigated whether people think of their moral beliefs as objectively true facts about the world, or as subjective preferences. The present research examines variability in the perceived objectivity of different moral beliefs, with respect both to the content of moral beliefs themselves (what they are about), and to the social representation of those moral beliefs (whether other individuals are thought to hold them). It also examines the possible consequences of perceiving a moral belief as objective. With respect (...) to the content of moral beliefs, we find that beliefs about the moral properties of negatively valenced acts are seen as reliably more objective than beliefs about the moral properties of positively valenced acts. With respect to the social representation of moral beliefs, we find that the degree of perceived consensus regarding a moral belief positively influences its perceived objectivity. The present experiments also demonstrate that holding a moral belief to be objective is associated with a more ‘closed’ response in the face of disagreement about it, and with more morally pejorative attributions towards a disagreeing other person. (shrink)
Having a criminal justice system that imposes sanctions no doubt does deter criminal conduct. But available social science research suggests that manipulating criminal law rules within that system to achieve heightened deterrence effects generally will be ineffective. Potential offenders often do not know of the legal rules. Even if they do, they frequently are unable to bring this knowledge to bear in guiding their conduct, due to a variety of situational, social, or chemical factors. Even if they can, a rational (...) analysis commonly puts the perceived benefits of crime greater than its perceived costs, due to a variety of criminal justice realities such as low punishment rates. These conclusions are reinforced by studies of crime rates following rule changes. Many show no change in deterrent effect. Those that purport to show a deterrent effect commonly have persuasive non-deterrence explanations, such as a change in incapacitative effect. The few studies that segregate deterrent and incapacitative effects tend to reinforce the conclusion that rule formulation has a deterrent effect only in those unusual situations in which the preconditions to deterrence exist. Even there, the deterrent effects are quite minor and unpredictable, hence inadequate grounds to influence criminal law rule making. (shrink)
The authors use social science methodology to determine whether a doctrinal shift—from an objectivist view of criminality in the common law to a subjectivist view in modem criminal codes—is consistent with lay intuitions of the principles of justice. Commentators have suggested that lay perceptions of criminality have shifted in a way reflected in the doctrinal change, but the study results suggest a more nuanced conclusion: that the modern lay view agrees with the subjectivist view of modern codes in defining the (...) minimum requirements of criminality, but prefers the common law's objectivist view of grading the punishment deserved. The authors argue that there is practical value in having criminal law track shared community intuitions of the proper rules for assigning liability and punishment. For that reason, the study results support the often criticized subjectivist view of modern codes in setting the minimum requirements of liability, but disapprove of the modern codes' shift away from the common law's objectivist view of grading. (shrink)
Krueger & Funder (K&F) see social psychologists as driven to demonstrate that people's behavior falls below relevant moral and intellectual standards. We suggest that social psychologists search for demonstrations of when it is that people's actual behaviors and decisions deviate from expected or ideal behaviors and decisions, and what these “deviations” tell us about general decision processes, including those that do not produce unexpected actions. Often the discoveries are of positive rather than negative behaviors.