Jesse Prinz, Ph.D. (co-PI)
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center
New York, NY
Javier Gomez-Lavin (co-PI)
Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center
New York, NY
Shaun Nichols, Ph.D. (co-PI)
Professor of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Nina Stohminger, Ph.D. (co-PI)
Assistant Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics
Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
Emerging research suggests a crucial link between the self and morality (Strohminger & Nichols 2014). That is, we are defined less by our personality, memory, or agency than by our moral values. This research has given rise to the Moral Self hypothesis: Most people regard moral values as a core part of identity, and essential for preserving identity over time. This work opens up a variety of exciting questions about identity and the self, which we addressed with this project. In particular, our work was motived by the following two research questions:
RQ1. What kinds of thought processes are involved in people’s views about the relationship between morality and the self?
RQ2. What are the social and behavioral consequences of thinking of the self as essentially linked to moral values?
Since the moral self hypothesis is relatively new, these fundamental questions have not yet been systematically explored. Through a series of studies, we operationalized and tested two overarching hypotheses about the moral self (corresponding to our research questions). These corresponded to six sub-hypotheses, which elaborated the overarching ideas:
H1. Associations between morality and the self are ordinarily deep
H1.i People ordinarily identify with the moral values
H1.ii In both clinical and non-clinical populations, individual differences in values will be reflected in differences in judgments about identity,
H1.iii The moral self emerges as a result of automatic, as opposed to controlled, cognitive processes.
H2. The moral self is crucial for real-world social behavior (YEAR 2)
H2.i The conceptual link between morality and identity influences judgments of responsibility and punishment
H2.ii People signal their moral values to others, in an effort to form communities with like-minded moral selves
H2.iii Moral selfhood contributes to prosociality
Our goal was to explore these hypotheses using a range of original methods that integrate methods from psychology and philosophy that have been classically categorized as experimental philosophy. Ultimately, our proposed research served the larger goal of revealing the contours and consequences of the moral self.
During our two years of research we ran over three-dozen individual studies in three countries to examine these dimensions of the moral self. As with any ambitious project, our team encountered a series of challenges and obstacles, but also came upon unexpected directions for empirical development. In particular, technical limitations resulted in only limited, exploratory progress on two of our hypotheses (H1.iii & H2.iii). However, despite these challenges we were able to refine various casual modeling methods which should help us uncover the mechanisms driving our robust effects. Also, motivated in large part by our robust effects, we extended the scope of our project to include ecologically-driven and socially significant real-world cases where moral change might serve as a forensic referent for personal identity: particularly in immigration and carceral contexts. Additionally, thanks to our team’s extensive network of international contacts, we were able to pursue a number of replications and extensions of our work with collaborators in Germany and Taiwan—which only serve to cement our team’s findings as we continue the extensive task of data analysis and preparation of manuscripts for publication.
We completed our proposed data-collection on four of our six original project areas: identification, clinical-populations, responsibility, and signaling. As previously mentioned, we only engaged in exploratory studies of our cognition and prosociality project areas. Lessons learned from these two project areas will be developed as we seek additional funding and collaborators in the near future. Our team has also completed a number of manuscripts regarding our clinical-populations and responsibility projects, and is in the process of finalizing manuscripts for our identification and signaling project.
We expect our work to produce further accomplishments over the next sixteen months as we finalize many of our manuscripts for publication. However, in the short-term we are pleased to report that Mr. Gomez-Lavin won a Graduate Student Presentation Prize for his talk on “Parole and the Moral Self” at the 2017 Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology. And by all accounts our capstone workshop on Identity and Morality was huge success with a larger than capacity audience in attendance and many possible collaborations discussed. Additionally, thanks in part to her work on our grant project, Dr. Strohminger has just begun a position as an assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Finally, Mr. Gomez-Lavin will begin his postdoctoral studies in summer 2018, a position which was earned in large part due to his work on this project.