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Harm, authority and generalizability: further experiments on the moral/conventional distinction

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Certain researchers in the field of moral psychology, following Turiel (1983), argue that children and adults in different cultures make a distinction between moral and conventional transgressions. One interpretation of the theory holds that moral transgressions elicit a signature moral response pattern while conventional transgressions elicit a signature conventional response pattern (e.g., Kelly et al. 2007). Four dimensions distinguish the moral response pattern from the conventional response pattern (e.g., Nichols 2004). 1. HARM/JUSTICE/RIGHTS – Subjects justify the wrongness of moral transgressions by stating that they involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. Conventional transgressions do not involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. 2. AUTHORITY – Subjects judge moral transgressions as wrong independent of structures of authority while the wrongness of conventional transgressions can be changed by an authority. 3. GENERALIZABILITY – Subjects judge moral transgressions as generalizably wrong, i.e., independent of time and place, while conventional transgressions’ wrongness depends on time and place. 4. SERIOUSNESS – Subjects judge moral transgressions as more seriously wrong than conventional transgressions. Others have criticized this view for a diversity of reasons. Relevant for our purposes is that, first, there appear to be cultural differences in what constitutes a moral transgression (e.g., Haidt et al. 1993) and second, it is unclear what the exact hypotheses are, surrounding this supposed moral/conventional distinction (e.g., Stich et al. 2009). I will present planned and ongoing experimental research that investigates two specific problems we encountered in the moral-conventional literature. First of all, we cannot draw reliable conclusions from previous work about the generalizability of the wrongness of different kinds of transgressions. In previous experiments, differences in time and place are often but not always confounded with a variety of other differences. For example, Huebner et al. (2010) ask participants if the depicted act would be OK for someone who lived elsewhere where everyone else did this. Moreover, when varying time and/or place, participants are likely to assume that other things differ as well. In our study, we vary time and/or place in a variety of scenarios in order to investigate what assumptions participants make when confronted with the generalizability question. Second, it is an open question as to what extent any transgression will universally elicit one of the two signature response patterns. In our study, we make use of existing differences in participants’ value hierarchy to test this. For one and the same scenario, we compare the response of participants for whom authority is an important value with the results of participants for whom authority is not an important value, in order to see if there are differences in the two groups’ response patterns. References: Haidt J., Koller S. & Dias M. 1993. Affect, culture and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:613-628. Huebner B., Lee, J.L. & Hauser, M.D. 2010. The Moral-Conventional Distinction in Mature Moral Competence. Journal of Cognition and Culture 10: 1-26. Kelly D., Stich S., Haley K.J., Eng S.J. & Fessler D.M.T. 2007. Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction. Mind & Language 22:117-131. Nichols S. 2004. Sentimental Rules: on the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment. Oxford University Press. Stich S., Fessler, D.M.T. & Kelly D. 2009. On the Morality of Harm: A response to Sousa, Holbrook and Piazza. Cognition 113:93-97. Turiel E. 1983. The Development of Social Knowledge. Morality & Convention. Cambridge University Press.
Keywords
moral relativism, experimental ethics, moral conventional distinction, experimental philosophy, moral psychology

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Chicago
Quintelier, Katinka, and Daniel MT Fessler. 2010. “Harm, Authority and Generalizability: Further Experiments on the Moral/conventional Distinction.” In First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK, Abstracts.
APA
Quintelier, Katinka, & Fessler, D. M. (2010). Harm, authority and generalizability: further experiments on the moral/conventional distinction. First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK, Abstracts. Presented at the First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK.
Vancouver
1.
Quintelier K, Fessler DM. Harm, authority and generalizability: further experiments on the moral/conventional distinction. First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK, Abstracts. 2010.
MLA
Quintelier, Katinka, and Daniel MT Fessler. “Harm, Authority and Generalizability: Further Experiments on the Moral/conventional Distinction.” First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK, Abstracts. 2010. Print.
@inproceedings{1064351,
  abstract     = {Certain researchers in the field of moral psychology, following Turiel (1983), argue that children and adults in different cultures make a distinction between moral and conventional transgressions. One interpretation of the theory holds that moral transgressions elicit a signature moral response pattern while conventional transgressions elicit a signature conventional response pattern (e.g., Kelly et al. 2007). Four dimensions distinguish the moral response pattern from the conventional response pattern (e.g., Nichols 2004). 1. HARM/JUSTICE/RIGHTS -- Subjects justify the wrongness of moral transgressions by stating that they involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. Conventional transgressions do not involve a victim that is harmed, whose rights have been violated or who has been subject to an injustice. 2. AUTHORITY -- Subjects judge moral transgressions as wrong independent of structures of authority while the wrongness of conventional transgressions can be changed by an authority. 3. GENERALIZABILITY -- Subjects judge moral transgressions as generalizably wrong, i.e., independent of time and place, while conventional transgressions{\textquoteright} wrongness depends on time and place. 4. SERIOUSNESS -- Subjects judge moral transgressions as more seriously wrong than conventional transgressions. Others have criticized this view for a diversity of reasons. Relevant for our purposes is that, first, there appear to be cultural differences in what constitutes a moral transgression (e.g., Haidt et al. 1993) and second, it is unclear what the exact hypotheses are, surrounding this supposed moral/conventional distinction (e.g., Stich et al. 2009). I will present planned and ongoing experimental research that investigates two specific problems we encountered in the moral-conventional literature. First of all, we cannot draw reliable conclusions from previous work about the generalizability of the wrongness of different kinds of transgressions. In previous experiments, differences in time and place are often but not always confounded with a variety of other differences. For example, Huebner et al. (2010) ask participants if the depicted act would be OK for someone who lived elsewhere where everyone else did this. Moreover, when varying time and/or place, participants are likely to assume that other things differ as well. In our study, we vary time and/or place in a variety of scenarios in order to investigate what assumptions participants make when confronted with the generalizability question. Second, it is an open question as to what extent any transgression will universally elicit one of the two signature response patterns. In our study, we make use of existing differences in participants{\textquoteright} value hierarchy to test this. For one and the same scenario, we compare the response of participants for whom authority is an important value with the results of participants for whom authority is not an important value, in order to see if there are differences in the two groups{\textquoteright} response patterns. References: Haidt J., Koller S. \& Dias M. 1993. Affect, culture and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:613-628. Huebner B., Lee, J.L. \& Hauser, M.D. 2010. The Moral-Conventional Distinction in Mature Moral Competence. Journal of Cognition and Culture 10: 1-26.
Kelly D., Stich S., Haley K.J., Eng S.J. \& Fessler D.M.T. 2007. Harm, Affect, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction. Mind \& Language 22:117-131. Nichols S. 2004. Sentimental Rules: on the Natural Foundations of Moral Judgment. Oxford University Press. Stich S., Fessler, D.M.T. \& Kelly D. 2009. On the Morality of Harm: A response to Sousa, Holbrook and Piazza. Cognition 113:93-97. Turiel E. 1983. The Development of Social Knowledge. Morality \& Convention. Cambridge University Press.},
  author       = {Quintelier, Katinka and Fessler, Daniel MT},
  booktitle    = {First Workshop of the Experimental Philosophy Group UK, Abstracts},
  keyword      = {moral relativism,experimental ethics,moral conventional distinction,experimental philosophy,moral psychology},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Bristol, UK},
  title        = {Harm, authority and generalizability: further experiments on the moral/conventional distinction},
  year         = {2010},
}