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Behavioral ethics

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Behavioral ethics essay assignment

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1. Introduction

Behavioral ethics is a new field drawing on behavioral psychology, cognitive science and related fields to determine why people make the ethical decisions, both good and bad, that they do. Much behavioral ethics research addresses the question of why good people do bad things.

Behavioral ethics may be the next big thing” in ethics education. N.Y.U. recently asked Prof. Jonathan Haidt, whose research is a major part of the new learning in behavioral ethics, to create a behavioral ethics course there. And John Walsh, who helped create the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations at the SEC, recently wrote in Corporate Counsel that the “ultimate promise of behavioral ethics…is that it provides pragmatic tools that have been demonstrated to work.

2. Task: Watch the following videos:

3. Activity:

Based on the videos that you watch above, answer the following questions (approx 200-300 words)

1. When asked the vast majority of people will agree with the following two statements. Would you agree with them also?

a. I have solid, well-considered ethical beliefs that can be altered only by reasoned arguments or new evidence.

b. I have character and integrity that will carry me though when I face difficult moral choices.


2. Probably the strongest finding from the last decade research in behavioral ethics is that people simultaneously think of themselves as good people yet frequently lie and cheat (typically in a minor way). Is this consistent with your experience? Do you agree or disagree with the following statements from researchers in the field?

The empirical evidence seems to point to the conclusion that we lie and cheat much more often than we care to admit. At the same time, we strive to maintain a positive image of ourselves, and moral values are a central component of our self-image (Francesa Gino)

Essentially, we cheat up to the level that allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals (Dan Ariely)

Evolution prepared us humans to be devious, self-serving, and only half-honest, inclined to grab the lion share of goodies without being thrown out of the group. Homo sapiens became wired for truthfulness only to the extent that it suited us, pleased others, and preserved our reputations. We are willing to break rules to benefit ourselves, but only within limits we can justify. We are good and fair, most of the time at least in our own minds but that doesn’t exactly make us straight shooters. Our internal cop stops us only when we contemplated big transgressions (Mark Matousek)


3. Most empirical research indicates that religiosity is not a significant factor in ethical behavior. Atheists and religious people tend to say that the same actions are ethical and unethical. And while religious people tend to give more money and time to their churches and synagogues, religious and nonreligious people otherwise have similar profiles in terms of altruism and volunteerism. Does this surprise you?


4. Have you known good people to do bad things? Either personally, or you’ve heard or read about episodes in the media?


6. If so, how would you explain their conduct?

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