Friday, December 31, 2010

Graduate Students and $$$

This is what a friend sent me in response to my earlier post on these students who pledged to give 10% of their incomes (here). You will like this better.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Character Matters: From Fordham to the NFL

Today I found this article in the Wall Street Journal ("You Can Get There From Fordham" - link here) talking about 2010 Fordham graduate John Skelton, who has completed his first professional season in the National Football League with the Arizona Cardinals. The article emphasizes how hard he worked to be where he is now.
As hard as he worked in our ethics class. John took our Ethics in Business class in the Spring of 2009. His comments at the end of the semester say something about his character (and you know how important character is for ethics):
"Professor: I just wanted to thank you for helping me and giving me the opportunity to do well in your class. I had a lot of fun in your class and it forced me to think about many issues i wouldn't consider before. I have definitely learned a lot."
As I said; he worked hard, he made very good contributions and was really engaged in the discussion. It was really in one of our last meetings that I found he was a professional player (and certainly I did not treat him as a professional player!). Ethics is about character, attitude, personality. John Skelton is a great QB, a nice person and a good student...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Is there privacy in marriage?

Leon Walker of Rochester Hills, Michigan, is facing five years in prison for accessing Clara Walker's email account, his
then-wife. Leon, a computer technician, went into Clara's Gmail account and found out she was having an affair with her ex-husband, who was previously arrested for domestic violence. Leon filed for emergency custody of his wife's young son.
Clara said the laptop was a private one and only she knew the password. But Leon said it was a family computer and she kept her passwords in a book next to the computer. Walker is now facing charges under a Michigan state law intended to prevent identity fraud. Is Leon Walker a hacker given his expertise to break into email accounts? Should the state prosecute parents monitoring their kids' Facebook accounts as well? (click here for details).

Whistleblower Exposes Airport Security Lapses

Chris Liu is a pilot who said had been flying with American Airlines for 12 years. He recorded several videos of airport external security with his cell phone. One of the videos, which has gotten more than half a million hits on YouTube, purportedly shows how ground crews can enter secured areas at a San Francisco airport by swiping a security card, which, Liu said, is a far cry from the scrutiny travelers and pilots undergo through normal security. Liu said: "People don't understand that when they walk through the TSA checkpoints, well, they are getting ... a groping, but they don't understand that all those people you see outside, the ground personal, all the caterers, all the airline cleaners, they get virtually nothing," he said in a previous interview with ABC News." Liu made the videos to make his point. "I wanted to give you an idea of what type of security the ground crews go through. Their screening is sliding a card and going through a door. Not screened at all".
Now American Airlines refuses to acknowledge Liu was an employee. And Liu could face charges for sharing security secrets...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Justice for Hedgehogs

Ronald Dworkin's new book "Justice for Hedgehogs" is now available. It will be widely discussed soon. Here you can find a link here to a conference at Boston University School of Law discussing this book.
And the paper are available here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Josh Cohen & Glenn Loury on

Pay attention to their discussion of the wiki-affair and Julian Assange (06:05)

Friday, December 17, 2010

PlanetHospital and the the Business of Surrogacy

Fascinating story on the WSJ today, about the business of surrogate motherhood. This California-based company,, let prospective parents produce babies of their own often using an egg donor from one country, a sperm donor from another, and a surrogate who will deliver the baby in a third country. Apparently, PlanetHospital is doing well: its services run from $32,000 to around $68,000, versus up to $200,000 for a U.S. surrogate. Plus, the advantage of no legal troubles because in some poorer countries surrogates have little or no legal right to the baby. For example, in Greece, a surrogate can be prosecuted for trying to keep a child. This kind of companies can do a lot of good for families suffering from infertility, gay male couples, old couples who may have trouble adopting, etc. Yet, some people find the whole idea of renting poor women's wombs execrable. What do you think?
Link to the article here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Misbranding Drugs

Elan Corp. of Dublin, Ireland and its American subsidiary Eisai Co. have to pay $214 million to resolve allegations that they illegally promoted the epilepsy drug Zonegran. Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc., agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge of misbranding the drug. Elan promoted Zonegran for a wide variety of uses not approved by the FDA, including mood stabilization, migraine and chronic headaches, weight loss and seizures. Elan's efforts targeted non-epilepsy prescribers and the company paid illegal kickbacks to physicians in an effort to persuade them to prescribe the drug for so-called off-label uses.
Elan's general counsel, John Moriarty Jr., said "Elan is committed to adhering to the highest ethical and legal standards and has developed a strong compliance program based upon best industry practices". Link here

Monday, November 29, 2010

Working (and buying!) for Hanes

The clip is self-explanatory. And these are not fictional characters. They are REAL. While child labor is illegal is most countries, it is also widespread in the garment industry in Southeast Asia and Central America.
Most people agree that there is something wrong with these practices. But the question is whether Hanes is in any way to blame for the situation of Halima and many other children working in these factories. It is important to remember that these factories are suppliers and subcontractors of Hanes (that is, technically, these workers are not Hanes' employees).
As a customer, do this sort of clips change your decision-making process about shopping for Hanes clothing? Do you think about these children when you have Hanes products in your hands?
As you watch this clip, think also about possible solutions to the problem from the perspective of multinational corporations.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More on Insider Trading

I am sorry that we could not finish our great discussion about insider trading yesterday. But we can profit from this article in the WSJ today (link here).
Short summary: Federal prosecutors in New York, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission are conducting a three-year investigation on insider-trading charges that could ensnare consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders and analysts across the nation. Nothing new. The SEC has been investigating leaks on takeover deals going back to at least 2007 amid an explosion of deals leading up to the financial crisis. Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, recently said insider trading is a "top criminal priority" for his office, adding: "Illegal insider trading is rampant and may even be on the rise." Apparently, multiple insider-trading rings has recently reaped illegal profits totaling tens of millions of dollars. One of the focus of the the investigations is the development of new ways to pass non-public information to traders through independent analysts and consultants who work for companies that provide "expert network" services to hedge funds and mutual funds. These companies set up meetings and calls with current and former managers from hundreds of companies for traders seeking an investing edge.
John Kinnucan, a principal at Broadband Research LLC in Portland, Ore., sent an email on Oct. 26 to roughly 20 hedge-fund and mutual-fund clients telling of a visit by the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "Today two fresh faced eager beavers from the FBI showed up unannounced (obviously) on my doorstep thoroughly convinced that my clients have been trading on copious inside information," the email said. "(They obviously have been recording my cell phone conversations for quite some time, with what motivation I have no idea.) We obviously beg to differ, so have therefore declined the young gentleman's gracious offer to wear a wire and therefore ensnare you in their devious web."
The email, which Mr. Kinnucan confirms writing, was addressed to traders such as hedge-fund firms SAC Capital Advisors LP and Citadel Asset Management, and mutual-fund firms Janus Capital Group, Wellington Management Co. and MFS Investment Management.
Another aspect of the probe is an examination of whether traders at a number of hedge funds and trading firms improperly gained nonpublic information about pending health-care, technology and other merger deals.
The SEC sent subpoenas last fall to more than 30 hedge funds and other investors. Some subpoenas were related to trading in Schering-Plough Corp. stock before its takeover by Merck & Co. in 2009. Schering-Plough stock rose 8% the trading day before the deal plan was announced and 14% the day of the announcement. Another important case is the MedImmune Inc.'s takeover by AstraZeneca Plc in 2007: MedImmune shares jumped 18% on Apr. 23, 2007, the day the deal was announced.
The question is, once again, about the wrongness of insider trading and whether it would be more efficient and good for the economy to legalize it, that is to decriminalize insider trading and allow each individual corporations to specify what sort of inside information can be traded on (the link to the WSJ article discussed in the clip we watched yesterday is here).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Profit Sharing and Corporate Governance

The Argentina’s government is pushing a bill that would require companies to distribute 10 percent of profits to employees. Business leaders have fiercely reacted to the project, as they think it violates property rights and may undermine investment in South America’s second-biggest economy.
The government says this bill would allow employees to benefit from the surging profits at banks and other industries but opponents say it would dissuade companies from expanding and adding jobs. Companies may be further discouraged from putting more money into Argentina if this bill passes, said Bertrand Delgado, an economist at Roubini Global Economics LLC in New York.
The proposal, which opposition leaders said they can support, comes as banks, telecommunications companies and food producers benefit from the country’s economic growth. Argentina’s economy will grow 9 percent this year, the most since 2005, according to the central bank’s forecast, after 0.9 percent growth last year.
The plan may boost trade union support for the government, which cites similar legislation in countries such as Mexico, where companies have to share 10 percent of their profits, as well as laws in Brazil, Chile and Peru. However, the bill “clashes with the constitutional principles of property rights,” according to the Argentine Industrial Union (which represents the country’s biggest companies).
In response, advocates of this proposal says that it will bring more investment: "What could be a better advertisement for our country than showing the high rates of profitability that companies are having?” Profits at Argentine banks rose 43 percent in the first eight months of the year to 6.68 billion pesos, according to an Oct. 21 report by the central bank. Last year, banks profits rose 66 percent to 7.92 billion pesos. Telecom Argentina SA, the country’s second-largest telephone company, said profit rose 47 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier on higher sales of Internet and wireless services.
Another controversial issue that pertains to the topic we discuss this week is that the government's project also aims to give unions and workers the right to examine their employers’ accounting to ensure that they’re getting a fair share of profits. That would create an untenable situation in which workers will try to “co- administer” companies, said Santisteban, of the importers’ chamber. Companies don’t “want to have a discussion with unions about projects where they put capital at risk,” he said. The Industrial Union wants to modify the bill so that unions, which represent about 80 percent of Argentina’s registered workers, can’t view the companies’ books or bring up the issue of profit sharing during annual wage negotiations. The profit-sharing requirement would initially apply only to companies with at least 300 employees. It would eventually be expanded to all businesses that meet a certain level of profitability, with the details to be determined by a committee of government officials, union members and business executives.
The leader of the General Labor Confederation, the country’s biggest union, urged lawmakers to approve what he called a “revolutionary bill”. “Companies have never earned so much money as they do now,” Moyano said. Eduardo Gutierrez, president of Grupo Farallon, a Buenos Aires-based construction company that employees 600 workers, said in an interview that he doesn’t want to be forced to share his earnings.
The question is the one we discussed yesterday in class, but here you have a clear example of a conflict between stockholders and employees over the right to control and the right to profits. The clip is in Spanish without subtitles, but you can read newspaper articles covering this issue here, here, and here. There is also a famous Naomi Klein's movie, The Take, with English subtitles, available in Youtube (click here).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Subliminal Advertising and Freedom of Speech

Is there anything (morally) wrong with this? Is this an example of subliminal advertising (regardless of the law)? Why do people complain about it? As we usually say, it does not really matter whether these practices are legally permitted or prohibited. But assuming that these practices are prohibited, do they entail a violation of freedom of speech? Can subliminal advertising give us reasons to buy or not to buy a product? Should it be demonstrated that these messages cause us to act one way or the other? WHY?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Business Firms and Stakeholder Theory

This is the full version of the clips we discussed in class today. There is another video featuring Milton Friedman's views on this blog (follow this link) together with some commentaries on a recent WSJ piece reviving Friedman's thesis. Enjoy it!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scanlon at Harvard on "Individual Morality and the Morality of Institutions"

Tim Scanlon is arguably the most important political philosopher alive. He has also published important work on freedom of speech, equality, tolerance, foundations of contract law, and human rights. This is a recent talk at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

RIP Philippa Foot

The "grande dame of philosophy", who introduced the thought experiment known as the Trolley Problem and one of the founders and main contributors to virtue theory, died this past week at her home in Oxford, England, the very day of her 90th birthday.
In addition to a great philosophical mind, Philippa Foot was a honorable person. She was a lifelong socialist and supporter of the Labor party. And she was one of only four academics to vote to prevent U.S. President Harry S Truman - the architect of Hiroshima - from having an honorary Oxford degree.
Here you can find link to the obituaries from the NYT and the Guardian.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Costs of Whistle-blowing

The man in the video is Ilya Eric Kolchinsky, former executive of Moody's Investors Service. At Moody’s, Mr. Kolchinsky oversaw the ratings assigned to subprime mortgage collateralized debt obligations, many of which turned out to be troublesome despite their triple-A ratings.
Mr. Kolchinsky has testified before Congressional panels twice in the last year about his concerns over Moody’s ratings. Since then, Kolchinsky says, Moody’s has tried to damage his reputation through its statements in the media, which have caused him to be “blacklisted by the private sector financial industry.” Last month, he filed a suit against Moody's.
You can find here a link to the NYT coverage and details about the lawsuit.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Distributive Justice and Taxes

This week we are moving to the examination of normative theories on the distribution of social goods and the allocation of social burdens. I am posting this op-ed by Economics Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, which appeared last week in the New York Times, just in case we do not have time to discuss it in class. Enjoy it! And remember to integrate the facts of the matter with what we learn in class!

NYT - September 19, 2010
The Angry Rich

"Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.

For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.

At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people."

(you can find a link to the original piece here... with 1319 comments in response!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ashtiani and Lewis: Is there any difference?

Last week, we examined the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, the Iranian woman convicted for adultery and sentenced to execution by stoning. Tonight, at 9 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, Teresa Lewis is scheduled to die by injection. Lewis, 41, was condemned to death for plotting the 2002 killings of Julian Lewis and his son, Charles “C.J.” Lewis, to collect insurance money. Her two conspirators, the men who fired the deadly shots, were sentenced to life terms. The U.S. Supreme Court and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) both have declined to halt the execution.
Lewis is, apparently, borderline mentally retarded and his defender argues that was manipulated by a smarter conspirator.
Lewis's case has generated as much international attention as Sakineh Ashtiani's case. The European Union asked this month to governor McDonnell to commute her sentence to life, citing Lewis' mental capacity.
Furthermore, Iranian President Ahmadinejad have accused Western media of having a double standard in reporting Lewis execution, compared to the coverage of Sakineh Ashtiani.
Is there any difference between the two after all?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Morality of Hardball

As you know, I was born and raised in South America. So, no baseball there. I know nothing about baseball. But maybe we can use the ethics of baseball to talk about the morality of business.
First, the facts. Last Wednesday night in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Derek Jeter, the Yankee shortstop and generally perceived as a nice guy, a guy who has good character traits, feigned being hit by a pitch. He pretended that the ball had ricocheted off his hand. But as stop-action replay made evident, it actually hit the knob of his bat. Still, his charade fooled the umpire and he was awarded first base. The following batter, Curtis Granderson, homered, putting the Yankees in front.
Rays fans chanted the convenient rhyme “Jeter, Cheater.” Sports blogs and talk radio were congested with upright indignation.
Two days after, Jeter remained befuddled at the reaction to it: “You’re all acting like this is the first time this has happened,” he said. “You think that’s the first time it’s happened? Anybody? I really don’t see what the big deal is.” In addition, he says, "“It seems like people think I turned around and told him that the ball hit me.” Jeter said. “What am I supposed to do? Say, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but it didn’t hit me. Please let me continue to hit?’ I mean, really!”
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi suggests that fans hold Jeter to some different standard of purity than they hold other players. Because of the kind of guy he is. “I think if it wasn’t Derek Jeter, and it wasn’t that series, I don’t think people would talk about it,” Girardi said. “This happens all the time (...) I think because of who it is it’s become a big deal.”
On the other hand, Joe Maddon, the manager of the Rays, was ejected from the game for arguing over the Jeter call. He said: “If our guys did it, I would have applauded that, too. It’s a great performance on his part.”
Now, besides the ESPN clip discussing Jeter's behavior, there is an op-ed by Bruce Weber in the New York Times today that is worth reading (link here). Let me summarize his argument but I strongly recommend you read the whole piece (it is short!):
- "Can we please just call a halt to the professional-sport-as-a-metaphor-for-life thing? Morality is complicated and context-based, isn’t it? The difference between right and wrong is not automatically transferable from one arena (so to speak) to another, from the context in which an actual score is kept and the idea is to win, to the larger context, in which duping other people has actual, potentially harmful consequences or undermines the purpose of effort."
- "About the morality of sport generally and baseball particularly. To begin with, deception is inherent to competition and it is fundamental to games of all types, including hide and seek and chess."
- "That one player or one team might be interested in putting one over on an opponent is one reason, a big reason, that organized sports have officials — who have no expectation, by the way, that the players are guided by the honor system. Indeed, I’d argue that a prime function of officials is to relieve players of the burden of honor. After all, on a bang-bang play at first base, when the runner is called safe but knows in his heart he was out, he does not feel compelled to correct the umpire’s misimpression."
As you post comment on this post, I would suggest you integrate what you have already learned in this class. Specifically, we discussed how to do ethics in a descriptive and a normative way. The former refers to character attributions and experiments in social psychology about character and situations. The latter about the morality of roles and the analogy of business with sports and games.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Person or Situation?

I did not know this documentary was available online. It is a Brazilian movie released in 2002, which was met with universal critical acclaim. It was voted as one of the ten best films of the year by The New York Times. And it won over 23 prizes worldwide, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Cultural & Artistic Programming and the Amnesty Award in the Netherlands.
We do not have time to watch it in class. But I strongly recommend that you watch it here. To think about the power of the situation and how societies provide opportunities for the proliferation of certain situations (but not others). I look forward to your comments!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ethics, Morality, and Death by Stoning

Sakineh Ashtiani is an Azerbaijani-Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery. She has been on death row in Iran since 2006. Her controversial case became recently known after high profile reports that she was convicted for the crime of adultery and sentenced to execution by stoning. The Iranian embassy in London responded these accusations by denying Ashtiani will be stoned to death. Sakineh's children promoted an international campaign to gain support in overturning her sentence. After protests in London and Washington, D.C., Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch petitioned her release. On July 2010, the president of Brazil offered Mohammadi Ashtiani asylum, which was refused by the Iranian government. Concerning Ashtiani's case, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens in an official statement last month. When Carla Bruni, French President Sarkozy's wife, condemned the stoning sentence against Ashtiani in late August, the Iranian newspaper Kayhan called her a "prostitute who deserved death".
Yesterday, Iranian authorities announced they have suspended the execution by stoning of Ashtiani, after weeks of condemnation from around the world, but has also indicated Ashtiani could be hanged for her conviction of playing a role in her husband's 2005 murder. Ambassador Ali Akbar Naseri stressed though that Ashtiani had "had illicit relations with numerous men" and had been involved in the killing of her husband. "Her guilt has been demonstrated," he said. The European Union presidency said today that Iran's suspension of the stoning sentence is not enough and demands it be completely overturned.
While reading about this case, I thought about the distinction between Ethics and Morality that will be discussed in class next week. Feel free to post your comments/reactions about this case.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Milgram revisited

Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority still attracts the attention of scholars and the media. Its results provide important hints on the relative contributions of situational and personality factors to explain and predict behavior. Recently, Jerry Burger, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, conducted a partial replication of the Milgram’s studies that allows for comparisons with the original investigations (while protecting the well-being of participants, because those studies were prohibited until now, given the extreme pressures that the subjects of the experiment had to suffer). Seventy adults participated in the study up to the point where they first heard the learner’s verbal complaints (150 volts). The obedience rates were only slightly lower than those obtained by Milgram 40 years earlier. One important finding of this replication of the study is that – contrary to our reasonable expectations – the presence of a defiant confederate failed to significantly reduce obedience rates. The good news with this research is that it opens the door to behavioral aspects of obedience in the lab that were locked for several decades for ethical reasons. The bad news is that by removing the stressful circumstances of the original experiments, Burger’s replication is not as interesting as the Milgram results in terms of its applicability to obedience in the real world (besides technical problems of comparability). For those interested in this replication, there is a new issue of American Psychologists in which Burger debate with two psychologists the results of the study. This research was featured in January 2007 in ABC News’ Primetime. Here you have a short summary of that broadcast (try with the following link if the video does not work: Feel free to post your comments on the video and the results of the experiments.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Nature of Morality

An interesting NYT op-ed by David Brooks on moral naturalism. The central question is where morality comes from. He reports the results of a recent gathering of moral naturalists. It is nice that we have stories like this in a newspaper. And the academic work mentioned in this piece is first rate.
A few insights:
1. the story of human morality begins back in the evolutionary past with primates, insects, and rats. Some interesting findings about social cooperation.
2. evolution had forged a firm foundation for a moral sense, which is like our sense of taste. Natural receptors help us recognize fairness and cruelty.
3. such a moral sense can be observed early in life.
4. moral behavior is not a function of moral knowledge but rather of sensitivity to other people’s needs.
Brooks finds useful to see people investigating morality in concrete and empirical ways. But he is concerned that apparently there is not place for the yearning for transcendence and the sacred in naturalism. He is right on that.
The complete article here.