Have scientists cracked the secret of morality?
Just thinking about science will make you more ethical, claims study
- Michael Cook for MercatorNet
- United States
- September 26, 2013
It’s too easy to discuss specific ethical issues: what are the facts? what are the principles? how should they be applied? Boring.
Let’s switch to metadiscourse, ie, grand theories of life, the universe and everything. Let’s begin with a sweeping generalisation: the great challenge of civilisation is to turn selfish, passionate, greedy, lustful savages into law-abiding citizens. The best philosophical minds have pondered how to achieve this, beginning with Aristotle and Plato.
That we haven’t advanced much further past the barbarity of the Peloponnesian Wars which had scarred the psyches of the Greek philosophers is obvious. Just watch the evening news about al-Shabaab terrorists running amok in a Kenyan shopping mall or the madman who killed a dozen people in Washington DC last week.
However, after 2,500 years of philosophical stumbling, psychologists at Harvard University and the University of California Santa Barbara are confident that they have more or less wrapped the problem up.
Their solution? Just have more confidence in science. It’s an astonishingly daring claim. But Christine Ma-Kellams, of Harvard, and Jim Blascovich, of UCSB, write confidently in a recent issue of the journal PLOS ONE that their experiments are “the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between science and morality”.
Ma-Kellams and Blascovich used social priming to test their hypothesis, a technique which studies how sensory cues unconsciously affect attitudes and behaviour. This is a field which has led to interesting results: people who see an American flag are more likely to vote Republican; thinking about old people makes people walk more slowly; a rubbish-filled environment makes people receptive to racist thoughts...
In this case, the researchers found that priming students’ minds with scientific words made them think more ethically.
Full Story: Discovered: the secret of morality