Educational and Psychological Studies, University of Miami
Philosophy, University of Kansas
Psychology, University of Delaware
View a proposal of this project, presented at the SMV Project’s 2015 Interdisciplinary Moral Forum. Visit our YouTube channel to view more videos.
It is common to attribute virtue traits such as fairness and kindness to ourselves or to other people. Yet many philosophers and social scientists doubt that virtues exist. We designed two studies to provide high quality evidence for robust virtue traits. The best way to show that a virtue exists is to provide evidence of it as an individual trait that occurs consistently. A robust virtue includes behavior, motivation, and self-integration that are aligned with the virtue and carried out consistently over time by a person. In the first study, we will intensively assess individuals in their natural environments. We will ask them to describe their virtue-related behavior, motivation, and self-integration four times per day for 14 days. We chose fairness and kindness because there are many daily opportunities to express these virtues. We expect moderate to strong consistency between virtue-related behavior, motivation, and self-integration within individuals over time. That is, when virtue-related behavior is low, motivations and self-integration will also be low. When virtue-related behavior is higher, motivations and self-integration will also be higher. This would mean that there are individual differences in the degree of virtue. We also expect an individual’s behaviors in one part of the study to be strongly related to his or her behaviors in another part of the study. The same should be true of motivations and self-integration. We will also test whether these virtues are more likely in private versus public settings and in close relationships compared to interactions with strangers or acquaintances. These numerical data will strongly test for the presence or absence of virtues.
We will also investigate more deeply how virtues fit or do not fit into people’s lives. After collecting the numerical data, we will select five individuals with high levels of the virtues and five with low levels of the virtues. We will interview them to find out how they learned about fairness and kindness. We will also ask them to describe the good and not so good examples of how they have practiced these virtues. This interview will allow us to gain a richer understanding of how virtues are or are not integrated into individuals’ lives and identities.
We designed a second, experimental study to test whether we can observe virtuous behavior in controlled conditions. We will measure fairness as a trait in all participants. Then we will randomly assign participants to a fairness-neutral condition and a fairness-suppressing condition. All participants will decide how much of a monetary endowment (provided by the experimenter) to share with someone. In the fairness suppressing condition, the other person will be from an out-group. If virtues exist, then the trait of fairness should predict fairer distributions of the money. We also expect the situation to affect fairness and for the situation and the trait to jointly affect fairness. These two studies comprise the most stringent and intensive study of fairness and kindness to date. Our results will provide the strongest available reasons to acknowledge or refute the existence of these virtues.