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Skip to 0 minutes and 30 secondsOur aim in the course has been to give you the skills to identify true beliefs, and distinguish them from false beliefs. Many of the most important beliefs we try and adopt or reject are moral ones. Beliefs about whether a situation is good or bad, or right or wrong. We saw earlier in the course that logic and critical thinking runs up against some common obstacles. A tendency to prefer evidence which confirms a preexisting view, to be influenced by the way an issue or question is framed-- those sorts of things. Do those same problems get in the way of good moral thinking? Today we put that question to my colleague and ethicist Dr. Glen Pettigrove.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsSo Glen, is moral thinking influenced by those same obstacles to good logical and critical thinking. The research suggests that it is. For instance, the framing effect. If we take a driver who's had one too many of these and put them behind a wheel, and they drive off, fall asleep at the wheel, and run into a tree, or fall asleep at the wheel and run into a child-- and we take those two cases and present them to readers and ask them to judge how blameworthy the driver is in the two cases, their judgement about that blame is stronger, depending on the order in which the two cases are presented to them.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsPeople who are asked to judge the case where they've read about the person hitting the tree first judge that driver more harshly than they do if they read about hitting the tree after they've read about hitting the child. Right, so that's framing because their judgement of the tree case is influenced by whether they've been set up by seeing the child case first. Correct. We also get something that looks like confirmation bias in moral cases. So people tend to go looking for arguments that support their view more readily than they go looking for arguments against their view.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 secondsAnd the nearer those arguments are to a belief that they care about deeply, or a belief that's connected up with their identity as a member of a group like a political party, the worse they are at evaluating the argument. When asked to evaluate the strength of arguments independently of whether it's going to change their mind or not, they tend to be more impressed with weak arguments that support their position than they are with strong arguments against their position. So what is that? Is that framing, or is that something broader? It may be that they can't imagine abandoning a particular belief. It may also be that they're convinced that this is right.

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 secondsAnd so, they don't need arguments on the other side. They've already sorted those through. So thats framing and confirmation bias. Are there any other influences that have been identified. Well, framing and confirmation bias are both versions of rational influence. They're heuristics that enable people to make shortcuts when they're dealing with complicated data. And they often help us make quite accurate judgments about cases. But they're also non-rational influences on our moral judgments. So things like smells can have an influence. Take a room, spray a nasty smell in it, and then ask people to read through cases where they make judgments about rightness or wrongness of the actions.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 secondsAnd people tend to be harsher judges than they are when the room smells pleasant or clean. So what's going on there? The smell puts them in a good mood or bad mood, and they reason from that perspective? It may be. Or there may be a deeper connection going on regarding how safe the environment is, or unsafe the environment is. Good smells also have an influence. Take a group of individuals in an American shopping mall. Approach them and ask for change for a dollar. And if they're approached in front of a clothing store, then 22% of men and 17% of women are ready to make change.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 secondsIf however, you locate those individuals in a different spot in the mall, in front of a bakery, with the smell of cinnamon buns wafting past their nostrils, then 45% of men and 61% of women are prepared to make change for a dollar. So the pleasant smell influences their readiness to be helpful to another individual. Is there any reason to think they're reasoning at all? They may be reasoning insofar as they're thinking this is a context where help is called for, and it's worth giving this kind of help in this situation. All right, so we've got all these problems. Is there anything we can do about it?

Skip to 4 minutes and 54 secondsWell, there are limits on how much we can affect the influences of the situation, or of framing effect or confirmation bias, on our reasoning. Knowing about them helps. Just being aware that they exist can enable us to notice that that's going on in the case, and then to step back and reevaluate the situation. But with many of these cases, we tend to do best if we can put together a group of individuals who have diverse perspectives, and we all reason it through together. Because those different perspectives then can weigh against the influences of framing, or confirmation, or some of these more deep seated psychological contexts. Thanks very much Glen.

Skip to 5 minutes and 35 secondsNow, is there any chance of getting a beer or a proper drink. Hear, hear.

Obstacles to Good Moral Reasoning

Our aim in the course has been to give you the skills to identify true beliefs, and distinguish them from false beliefs. Many of the most important beliefs we try and adopt or reject are moral ones. Beliefs about whether a situation is good or bad, or right or wrong. We saw earlier in the course that logical and critical thinking runs up against some common obstacles. A tendency to prefer evidence which confirms a pre-existing view, to be influenced by the way an issue or question is framed– those sorts of things. Do those same problems get in the way of good moral thinking? Tim Dare puts that question to his colleague, ethicist Dr. Glen Pettigrove.

For more on the studies Glen discusses see:

Eric Schwitzgebel and Fiery Cushman, ‘Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers,’ Mind and Language 27 (2012): 135-153. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2012.01438.x/abstract

Simone Schnall, Jonathan Haidt, Gerald Clore, Alexander Jordan, ‘Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34 (2008): 1096-1109. http://psp.sagepub.com/content/34/8/1096.short

Robert Baron, ‘The Sweet Smell of … Helping: Effects of Pleasant Ambient Fragrance on Prosocial Behavior in Shopping Malls,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 (1997): 498-503. http://psp.sagepub.com/content/23/5/498.abstract

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This video is from the free online course:

Logical and Critical Thinking

The University of Auckland

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