Category: Ethics (page 1 of 4)

Responding to Egoism

I’ve been teaching ethics since 2006, and just about every semester I teach the problem of ethical egoism. In short, that problem is: Why should I do what’s right if it’s not in my self-interest. To me, this is THE central question in ethics. Continue reading

Measuring Intellectual Humility

As a culmination of our intellectual humility grant in 2013, my co-authors (Mark Alfano, Kathryn Iurino, Paul Stey, Markus Christen, Feng Yu, and Danial Lapsley) have just published our new multi-dimensional measure of intellectual humility. Over five studies (N=3,651), two languages, and five years went into producing this paper in PLoS One, where we present our validate tool for measuring the trait of intellectual humility in people. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents five studies on the development and validation of a scale of intellectual humility.This scale captures cognitive, affective, behavioral, and motivational components of the construct that have been identified by various philosophers in their conceptual analyses of intellectual humility. We find that intellectual humility has four core dimensions: Open-mindedness (versus Arrogance), Intellectual Modesty (versus Vanity), Corrigibility (versus Fragility), and Engagement (versus Boredom). These dimensions display adequate self-informant agreement, and adequate convergent, divergent, and discriminant validity. In particular, Open-mindedness adds predictive power beyond the Big Six for an objective behavioral measure of intellectual humility, and Intellectual Modesty is uniquely related to Narcissism. We find that a similar factor structure emerges in Germanophone participants, giving initial evidence for the model’s cross-cultural generalizability.


New publication: Virtues and Psychology

Though it’s taken awhile, my chapter “Virtues and Psychology: Do We Have Virtues and How Can We Know?” is now available (somewhat) online. It is part of the Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management (Alejo José G. Sison, ed.). It is currently preview only, but your library may have access. Either way, here’s the abstract:

Attribution of virtues and vices is commonplace. Saying someone has a virtue helps us explain her behavior and form expectations about how she will behave in the future. Built on the universality of these attributions, virtue ethics has had a long tradition in philosophy, with Aristotle standing at the pinnacle, as well as a modern resurgence. Recently, however, empirical evidence has cast doubt on the existence of virtues and vices. People’s behavior, it seems, is governed more by morally irrelevant situational factors than by robust, internal dispositions like virtues. Yet a new line of argument is beginning to emerge that virtue ethics is still relevant even if virtues do not exist.

Recent Publication in Cogent Arts and Humanities

I have a new publication, “Human values and the value of humanities in interdisciplinary research,” recently published in Cogent Arts & Humanities. It’s open access, so check it out!

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Gossip and Its Limits

The timing was rather fortuitous that as I finish final revisions for my forthcoming article on gossip in The Monist (“Character, Caricature, and Gossip”), news breaks about soon-to-be-released app Peeple. The Washington Post billed it as “Yelp, but for humans.”

This is a terrible idea, as the internet quickly pointed out [here, here, here, here, and here]. Others can review you whether or not you’ve created a profile on the site. You can’t opt-out. You can dispute a negative comment or rating, but not remove it.

Rather than rehashing all reasons that Peeple is a terrible idea (and see here for a prior comedic exploration of why it is), I want to focus on what this tells us about the importance of context for gossip.

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Flags, Racism, and Mixed Messages

The “Confederate Flag”1 should be taken down immediately, at the South Carolina capitol and on any other state grounds (in SC or elsewhere). That it took a racist terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church and the death of nine people to bring this point into the national conversation is a lamentable and reprehensible. I’m hardly alone in this call. There are a number of petitions ( here, here, and here for instance) that one can sign (and I urge you to do so). Here I want to offer a philosophical analysis and rejection of a common argument against removing it.

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“Reversing the Side-Effect Effect”: Now published in Philosophical Studies

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.49.16 AMMy article “Reversing the Side-Effect Effect” has just come out in Philosophical Studies 172 (1): 177-206. This was authored with Paul Stey and Mark Alfano. In the paper, we demonstrate that we can control the effect by changing what norm is made salient. Norms set expectations it appears. If one’s side effect violate those norm-based expectations, we tend to say that side effect was intentional. There are a number of philosophical issues this raise pertaining to intentionality and other psychological states like belief, knowledge, and desire. You can read the extended summary here in my previous post.


Publication: Semantic Space of Intellectual Humility

Good news, Synonym map for Intellectual Humilityeveryone! Markus Christen, Mark Alfano, and I have another paper forthcoming from our Intellectual Humility Grant. Next month, we will present our paper “The Semantic Space of Intellectual Humility” at the European Conference on Social Intelligence in Barcelona. It will then be published in the conference’s proceedings.

In this paper, we employ psycholexical approach to the study of intellectual humility (IH). This method collects a term’s synonyms and antonyms and then compares the similarity of all those terms. As you can see from the image here (larger version available in the paper), we can then map the terms based on their similarity with each other. In this mapping procedure (superparamagnetic agent mapping) terms are attracted to other similar terms and repel those that are different. Clusters emerge. Looking just at the synonyms, we found three clusters that we labeled the Discreet Self, the Inquisitive Self, and the Sensible Self. Each provides insight into different ways one can be intellectually humble. Put another way, IH is a multi-faceted virtue and our method has revealed three of those facets.

For more (especially about IH’s antonyms), check out the paper. It turns out that IH can also be understood as situated in the mean between various vices. This is close to what Aristotle might have predicted, only we found there were more than two vices.


I don’t usually post about papers until they’ve been accepted, but since my co-author (Mark Alfano, Oregon) has already posted, so I’ll share as well. We have completed and submitted a paper that offers an intention-based analysis of the speech act of bragging. This includes the new act, the humblebrag.

You can read the current draft on his site. brag


Humility and Modesty

Julia Driver (Uneasy Virtue, 2011: 16ff, 114-5) claims there is a paradox of self-reference for modesty, but not humility. That is, it’s self-contradictory to say, “I’m modest,” but not “I’m humble.” She doesn’t give much argument other than to claim that humility has to do with being of an inferior status, so one can correctly attribute that status to oneself. But you can’t claim to be modest without contradiction. I’m not convinced, but let’s set that aside. What is the relationship between humility and modesty? Are they the same, closely related, or completely different? Modesty is the second synonym listed for ‘humility’ listed on So they seem at least related. Google Ngrams is one of my new favorite toys. It checks its database of over five million books for the frequency of a term (or terms). Plugging in ‘humility’ and ‘modesty,’ you get the following:

chart of humility and modesty usage over time

This suggests to me that the two concepts have fallen (and risen back a bit) together in social importance (assuming how much they’re talked about in books is any indication of that). So it seems they’re related at least and not altogether different. Maybe then there is a paradox of self-reference for humility. What do you think? What do these terms mean and are they any different?

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