What's wrong?

[From Bruce Nevin (2000.08.09.1755 EDT)]

Regarding universals of ethics:


This pilot study is reported in a book:


I found out about this when I heard a talk by Rushworth Kidder that was broadcast on the radio in San Francisco a few years ago. From the current state of their website, it appears to me that maybe no further "real" studies followed the "pilot" study, and that most attention and effort goes into teaching and promulgating. The teaching and promulgating seems aimed at persuading people to include ethical considerations when they make decisions, especially in business and government. The problem with institutionalizing oneself ;-> But the kinds of agreement found in the pilot study are certainly striking, and deserving of a more careful look.

Obviously, if you have to persuade someone to control a variable, their control of it isn't innate, right? Well, obviously not everyone does follow these putatively universal ethical principles, and maybe no one does all the time (Richard's examples and many more). But failure to follow a principle doesn't prove its nonexistence. Is there conflict among principles, such that I don't care about this one (killing) so much as I do about that one (self defense; revenge; honor; wealth; power)?

Conversely, a finding of cross-cultural agreement about some ethical principle doesn't distinguish biological from social inheritance of it. Disturbances to control of social interactions, e.g. as attributed to Asperger's syndrome (http://www.autism-society.org/packages/aspergers.html), may have a biological basis and so may turn up in any society. Another biological basis for change to principles or change to relative weight in a conflict among principles is (by hypothesis) reorganization. It would be surprising if, for example, survivors of brutal war conditions had not undergone some reorganization. (Probably the anomie of Merseault in _The Stranger_ reflects Camus' WWII experience.) And so on.

A quick google.com search turns up a number of other places looking at ethics that may have come up with some evidence, including these two:


  Bruce Nevin

[From Bruce Gregory (2000.0810.0625)]

I think Ken's view of intrinsic ethical standards make sense with a
single modification. It is wrong to steal from, to kill, or to
disrespect one of "us." It is O.K. to do those things to one of
"them." The shifting lines between "us" and "them" makes the world