Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Category: Ethics

CFA: Moral Psychology of Amusement

Call for Abstracts

Abstracts are sought for a collection on the moral psychology of amusement, as part of Rowan and Littlefield International’s current series of volumes on the moral psychology of various emotions (Mark Alfano, series editor). The aim of the volume is to provide interdisciplinary perspectives on amusement, so a wide range of disciplines and methodologies are welcome.

Possible topics include:

  • Consideration of some of the causes or consequences and the moral implications of those causes or consequences,
  • Morally relevant ways that amusement interacts with other emotions,
  • Morally appropriate or inappropriate uses of one’s own amusement
  • Examination of the contexts in which it is morally permissible to induce (or not) amusement in others,
  • A cross-cultural analysis of amusement,
  • Amusement and feminism,
  • Ways in which amusement can subvert or aid our moral reasoning,
  • Amusement as a means of oppression,
  • The dangers of amusement, or
  • An analysis of what about jokes amuses us.

Deadline for Abstracts: May 15, 2018

Full details available here. 

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.

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. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Reversing the Side-Effect Effect

Some of you are already familiar with the Side-Effect Effect by now. In a new article forthcoming in Philosophical Studies, Paul Stey, Mark Alfano, and I demonstrate that we can reverse the effect and therefore explain what the effect is as never before possible.

Tony Hayward

Tony Hayward – former CEO of BP (credit: Justin Thomas)

First discovered by Joshua Knobe (and hence sometimes called the Knobe Effect), the effect’s hallmark is an asymmetric attribution of some psychological state or other. In Knobe’s original study, the chairman of the board alternately harms or helps the environment as a side-effect of a new profit-increasing program. Knobe found an asymmetric pattern of attributions of intentionality in the two cases: the folk said he intentionally harmed the environment, but he didn’t intentionally help it. Since this seminal work, a literature on the effect has developed, expanding it in terms of the states asymmetrically attributed (intentionality, desires, beliefs, knowledge, etc.) and the type of norm involved (moral, legal, prudential, aesthetic, descriptive, etc.). As the literature on the effect has expanded, it has become increasingly difficult to precisely characterize the nature of the effect. While it initially looked like people were more willing to say a morally bad side effect was intentional, that interpretation doesn’t hold up since the asymmetry is present in studies involving on non-moral norms. So what is the Side-Effect Effect anyway? How do we describe it? We can already say that the effect refers to the asymmetric attribution rates for various psychological states, but based on what? When are the attribution rates higher or lower? Continue reading

Unpublished Thoughts: Ethics of Cooperation

Passengers push train off womanLast week something interesting happened in Japan. A woman fell into the gap between a train and the platform. Unlike a similar instance in New York where one man could save another from a subway, no one person could save her. So 40 passengers got off the train and started pushing. Others quickly joined in. By cooperating, they managed to push the train over far enough to get her out. This case raises some interesting questions about cooperation? What moral obligation do we have to cooperate? Can we be obligated to cooperate with others on something that we would not individually be obligated to do? And how can we best understand any moral obligation for cooperation, as a duty or a virtue? Continue reading

Unpublished Thoughts: Thomson’s Trolley-problem Problem

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts: Unpublished Thoughts. Today, I’ll take up a significant problem in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s (2008) “Turning the Trolley.” She offers an argument intended to demonstrate the that Trolley Problem is in fact a non-problem. Her argument, however, is logically invalid. Continue reading

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