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Sarkissian, H. and Phelan, M. 2019. "Moral Objectivism and a punishing God." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

> ABSTRACT> : Many moral philosophers have assumed that ordinary folk embrace moral objectivism. But, if so, why do folk embrace objectivism? One possibility is the pervasive connection between religion and morality in ordinary life. Some theorists contend that God is viewed as a divine guarantor of right and wrong, rendering morality universal and absolute. But is belief in God per se sufficient for moral objectivism? In this paper, we present original research exploring the connections between metaethics and particular conceptions of God among religious participants. Study 1 shows that, when controlling for religiosity, age, and belief in God’s loving characteristics, it is belief in God’s punishing characteristics (specifically, the existence of Hell) that uniquely predicts rejection of moral relativism. Study 2 shows that followers of Abrahamic faiths are more likely to endorse moral objectivism when thinking of the Divine, regardless of loving or punishing characteristics. And Study 3 shows that priming for moral objectivism makes theists more likely to endorse God’s punishing characteristics. A general picture is suggested by these data. For Abrahamic theists, God’s particular characteristics are not germane to the question of whether his moral commandments are real and objective. And while theists strongly endorse God’s loving characteristics, focusing on the objective nature of morality can highlight God’s punishing nature, reminding theists that objective morality requires a divine guarantor of justice to enforce it.

Global Neuroethics Summit Delegates, Rommelfanger, K. S., Jeong, S.-J., Ema, A., Fukushi, T., Kasai, K., … Singh, I. (2018). Neuroethics Questions to Guide Ethical Research in the International Brain Initiatives. Neuron, 100(1), 19–36.

> ABSTRACT> : Increasingly, national governments across the globe are prioritizing investments in neuroscience. Currently, seven active or in-development national-level brain research initiatives exist, spanning four continents. Engaging with the underlying values and ethical concerns that drive brain research across cultural and continental divides is critical to future research. Culture influences what kinds of science are supported and where science can be conducted through ethical frameworks and evaluations of risk. Neuroscientists and philosophers alike have found themselves together encountering perennial questions; these questions are engaged by the field of neuroethics, related to the nature of understanding the self and identity, the existence and meaning of free will, defining the role of reason in human behavior, and more. With this Perspective article, we aim to prioritize and advance to the foreground a list of neuroethics questions for neuroscientists operating in the context of these international brain initiatives. >>>PDFalt text

Colebrook, R. and Sarkissian, H. 2018. "Objectivity." Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Edited by Todd K. Shackelford and Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford (Springer)

> ABSTRACT> : In this entry, we outline the ways in which evolutionary theory has implications for the objectivity of morality.>>>PDF] alt text

De Freitas, J., Sarkissian, H., Newman, G.E., Grossmann, I., De Brigard, F., Luco, A., and Knobe, J. 2018. “Consistent belief in a good true self in misanthropes and three interdependent cultures.” Cognitive Science

> ABSTRACT> : People sometimes explain behavior by appealing to an essentialist concept of the self, often referred to as the true self. Existing studies suggest that people tend to believe that the true self is morally virtuous, i.e., that, deep inside, every person is motivated to behave in morally good ways. Is this belief particular to individuals with optimistic beliefs or people from Western cultures, or does it reflect a widely held cognitive bias in how people understand the self? To address this question, we tested the good true self theory against two potential boundary conditions that are known to elicit different beliefs about the self as a whole. Study 1 tested whether individual differences in misanthropy — the tendency to view humans negatively — predict beliefs about the good true self in an American sample. The results indicate a consistent belief in a good true self, even among individuals who have an explicitly pessimistic view of others. Study 2 compared true self-attributions across cultural groups, by comparing samples from an independent country (USA) and a diverse set of interdependent countries (Russia, Singapore, and Colombia). Results indicated that the direction and magnitude of the effect are comparable across all groups we tested. The belief in a good true self appears robust across groups varying in cultural orientation or misanthropy, suggesting a consistent psychological tendency to view the true self as morally good.>>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. 2017. "Folk platitudes as the explananda of philosophical metaethics: Are they accurate? And do they help or hinder inquiry?" Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research 34:565-575

> ABSTRACT> : The field of metaethics, the branch of moral philosophy that examines the nature and status of morality, is rich in theoretical diversity. Nonetheless, a majority of professional philosophers embrace a subset of theories that affirm the existence of objective moral facts. I suggest that this may be related to the very method that philosophers use to construct metaethical theories. This method involves analyzing how ordinary people think and argue about morality. Analysis of ordinary moral discourse is meant to reveal common platitudes (or truisms) about the nature of morality itself, including the platitude that morality trades in objective moral facts. But do philosophers investigate ordinary moral discourse in any systematic way? How do they arrive at such platitudes? On what grounds are they jusified? In this paper, I critically examine these questions, and argue that a) any such platitudes need to be investigated systematically through empirical research, and b) philosophers ought to be engaged in this research themselves.>>>PDF alt text ]

Sarkissian, H. 2017. Situationism, manipulation, and objective self-awareness*". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20:489–503

> ABSTRACT> : Among those taking the implications of situationism seriously, some have suggested exploiting our tendency to be shaped by our environments toward desirable ends. The key insight here is that if experimental studies produce reliable, probabilistic predictions about the effects of situational variables on behavior—for example, how people react to the presence or absence of various sounds, objects, and their placement—then we should deploy those variables that promote prosocial behavior, while avoiding or limiting those that tend toward antisocial behavior. Put another way, some have suggested that we tweak situations to nudge or influence others toward good behavior. A question arises: Isn’t this manipulative? In this paper, I describe some existing proposals in the literature and consider the manipulation worry. Drawing on classical Confucian ethics, I argue that, when all is considered, it is chimerical to think we can refrain from influencing or manipulating others. We must rather accept that influence (whether intended or not) is part of social existence. Once we accept this, the only remaining question is how to influence others. I suggest that this should make us conceive ourselves in an objective fashion.>>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. 2017. Review of Foundations for Moral Relativism, by David Velleman. Journal of Moral Philosophy 14.1:116-119.

> ABSTRACT> : Review of David Velleman's Foundations for Moral Relativism. Yes, clicking this pulldown provided only redundant information. Sorry about that.>>>PDF alt text

Huebner, B. and Sarkissian, H. 2016. "Cultural evolution and prosociality: widening the hypothesis space." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 39:e1.

> ABSTRACT> : Commentary on Norenzayan et al's target article "The cultural evolution of prosocial religions". >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. 2016. “Aspects of folk morality: objectivism and relativism.” In The Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Wesley Buckwalter and Justin Sytsma (Blackwell)

> ABSTRACT> : Most moral philosophers work under the assumption that ordinary folk morality is committed to objectivism—that ordinary folk view morality in absolute terms. This datum serves to constrain and shape philosophical metaethics, since those working in this field feel compelled to make sense of it. In this chapter, I discuss why philosophers take on this commitment. I also outline the relevant experimental research exploring whether, and to what extent, ordinary folk think of morality in absolute terms. Finally, I turn toward a more general discussion of what implications this work may have for philosophical ethics. >>>PDF alt text

[reprint] Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. 2007. "Naturalizing Ethics". In *Blackwell Companion to Naturalism. Edited by Kelly Clark (Blackwell)

> This is a reprint of Flanagan et al (2007), below. Please see original paper for abstract and to download.

Sarkissian, H. 2015. "When you think it's bad it's worse than you think: Psychological bias and the ethics of negative character assessments". In The Philosophical Challenge from China. Brian Bruya (Ed.). MIT Press.

> ABSTRACT> : We often find ourselves thinking of others as boring, nauseating, dim, dodgy, clumsy, or otherwise irritating or unpleasant. What’s the right thing to do when we have such thoughts? Some philosophers argue we ought to be civil and conceal them, lest others pick up on them and feel disrespected. Drawing on experimental psychology and classical Confucianism, I argue otherwise, suggesting that we ought to (literally) doubt such appraisals and be wary of their veracity.>>>PDFalt text

Sarkissian, H., Wright, J. C. 2014. "Experimental Moral Psychology: An Introduction". In Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology. Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright (Ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

> ABSTRACT> : An introduction to the volume bearing the same name, tracing the recent history of experimental moral psychology and summarizing the contributions to the volume. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. 2014. "Is self-regulation a burden or a virtue? A comparative perspective." In The Philosophy and Psychology of Character and Happiness: An Empirical Approach to Character and Happiness Nancy E. Snow and Franco V. Trivigno (Ed.). (pp. 181-196). Routledge Press.

> ABSTRACT> : Confucianism demands that individuals comport themselves according to the strictures of ritual propriety—specific forms of speech, clothing, and demeanor attached to a vast array of life circumstances. This requires self-regulation, a cognitive resource of limited supply. When this resource is depleted, a person can experience undesirable consequences such as social isolation and alienation. However, one’s cultural background may be an important mediator of such costs; East Asians, in particular, seem to have comparatively greater self-regulatory strength. I offer some considerations as to why this may be so, and what insights it may afford to theories of virtue generally. >>>PDF alt text

[reprint] Sarkissian, H., Park, J., Tien, D., Wright, J., Knobe, J. 2014. Folk moral relativism. In Experimental Philosophy Vol. II. Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols (Ed.). (pp. 169-192).

> This is a reprint of Sarkissian et al "Folk Moral Relativism" (2010), below, for an anthology of papers in experimental Philosophy. See the original paper for abstract and to download.

Buckwalter, W., Knobe, J., Nichols, S., Pinillos, N. Ángel, Robbins, P., Sarkissian, H., Weigel, C., Weinberg, J. 2012. Experimental Philosophy. Oxford Bibliographies Online. DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0162

> ABSTRACT> : A bibliographic review of the state of the field in experimental philosophy, with sections on moral judgment, metaethics, free will, consciousness, epistemology, and metaphilosophy. >>>PDFalt text

Knobe, J., Buckwalter, W., Nichols, S., Robbins, P., Sarkissian, H., and Sommers, T. 2012. "Experimental Philosophy". Annual Review of Psychology 63.1: 81-99

> ABSTRACT> : Experimental philosophy is a new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy. The present review focuses on research in experimental philosophy on four central questions. First, why is it that people's moral judgments appear to influence their intuitions about seemingly non-moral questions? Second, do people think that moral questions have objective answers, or do they see morality as fundamentally relative? Third, do people believe in free will, and do they see free will as compatible with determinism? Fourth, how do people determine whether an entity is conscious? >>>PDFalt text

Sarkissian, H., Park, J., Tien, D., Wright, J., Knobe, J. 2011. Folk moral relativism. Mind & Language, 26(4), 482-505.

> ABSTRACT> : It has often been suggested that people’s ordinary folk understanding of morality involves a rejection of moral relativism and a belief in objective moral truths. The results of six studies call this claim into question. Participants did offer apparently objectivist intuitions when confronted with questions about individuals from their own culture, but they offered increasingly relativist intuitions as they were confronted with questions about individuals from increasingly different cultures or ways of life. In light of these data, the authors hypothesize that people do not have a fixed commitment to moral objectivism but instead tend to adopt different views depending on the degree to which they consider radically different perspectives on moral questions. >>>PDFalt text

Sarkissian, H. 2010. Minor tweaks, major payoffs: The problems and promise of situationism in moral philosophy. Philosopher's Imprint 10(9), 1-15.

> ABSTRACT> : Moral philosophers of late have been examining the implications of experimental social psychology for ethics. The focus of attention has been on situationism—the thesis that we routinely underestimate the extent to which minor situational variables influence morally significant behavior. This has been cause for alarm in some quarters, where situationism is seen as a threat to prevailing lay and philosophical theories of character, personhood, and agency. In this paper, I outline the situationist literature and critique one of its upshots: the admonition to carefully select one’s situational contexts. Besides being limited in application, this strategy accentuates an untenable person/situation dichotomy. The deeper lesson of situationism lies in highlighting the interconnectedness of all social behavior—how we are inextricably involved in the actions of others, and how minor tweaks in our own behavior can lead to major payoffs in our moral lives. Thus, I argue that situationism is better seen as an opportunity for moral progress than a threat to individual autonomy. > >>>PDFalt text

Sarkissian, H., Chaterjee, A., DeBrigard, F., Jelly, C., Knobe, J., Nichols, S., Sirker, S. 2010. Is belief in free will a cultural universal? Mind & Language, 25(3), 346-358.

> ABSTRACT> : Recent experimental research has revealed surprising patterns in people's intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. One limitation of this research, however, is that it has been conducted exclusively on people from Western cultures. The present paper extends previous research by presenting a cross-cultural study examining intuitions about free will in subjects from the United States, Hong Kong, India and Colombia. The results revealed a striking degree of cross-cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of participants said that (a) our universe is indeterministic and (b) moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism. >>>PDFalt text

Huebner, B., Bruno, M., Sarkissian, H. 2010. What does the nation of China think of phenomenal states? Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1(2), 225-243.

> ABSTRACT> : Critics of functionalist theories of the mind often rely on the intuition that collectivities cannot be conscious in motivating their positions. In this paper we consider the merits of appealing to this intuition that there is nothing that it’s like to be a collectivity. We report empirical evidence demonstrating that collective mentality is not an affront to commonsense. We also report experimental evidence demonstrating that resistance to collective mentality is culturally specific rather than universally held. Finally, we provide evidence that the source of this intuitive resistance to collective mentality is at least partially a product of our Western cultural heritage. Thus, we argue that mere appeal to the intuitive implausibility of collective consciousness does not offer any genuine insight into the nature of mentality in general, nor the nature of consciousness in particular. >>>PDFalt text

Phelan, M., Sarkissian, H. 2009. Is the 'trade-off hypothesis' worth trading for? Mind & Language 24(2), 164-180.

> ABSTRACT> : Recently, the experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe has shown that the folk are more inclined to describe side effects as intentional actions when they bring about bad results. Edouard Machery has offered an intriguing new explanation of Knobe’s work—the 'trade-off hypothesis'—which denies that moral considerations explain folk applications of the concept of intentional action. We critique Machery's hypothesis and offer empirical evidence against it. We also evaluate the current state of the debate concerning the concept of intentionality, and argue that, given the number of variables at play, any parsimonious account of the relevant data is implausible. >>>PDFalt text

Phelan, M., Sarkissian, H. 2008. The folk strike back: Or, why you didn't do it intentionally, though it was bad and you knew it. Philosophical Studies, 138(2), 291-298.

> ABSTRACT> : Recent and puzzling experimental results suggest that people’s judgments as to whether or not an action was performed intentionally are sensitive to moral considerations. In this paper, we outline these results and evaluate two accounts which purport to explain them. We then describe a recent experiment that allegedly vindicates one of these accounts and present our own findings to show that it fails to do so. Finally, we present additional data suggesting no such vindication could be in the offing and that, in fact, both accounts fail to explain the initial, puzzling results they were purported to explain. >>> PDF alt text

Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. 2007. "Naturalizing Ethics". In Moral Psychology, Vol. 1: The Evolution of Morality: Adaptations and Innateness. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.). (pp. 1-26). MIT Press.

> ABSTRACT> : In this essay we provide (1) an argument for why ethics should be naturalized, (2) an analysis of why it is not yet naturalized, (3) a defense of ethical naturalism against two fallacies—Hume’s and Moore’s—that ethical naturalism allegedly commits, and (4) a proposal that normative ethics is best conceived as part of human ecology committed to pluralistic relativism. We explain why naturalizing ethics both entails relativism and also constrains it, and why nihilism about value is not an especially worrisome for ethical naturalists. The substantive view we put forth constitutes the essence of Duke Naturalism. >>>PDFalt text

Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. 2007. "What is the nature of morality? A response to Casebeer, Railton and Ruse". In Moral Psychology, Vol.1: The Evolution of Morality: Adaptations and Innateness. Walter Sinnott-Armstrrong (Ed.). (pp. 45-52). MIT Press.

> ABSTRACT> : A response to comments by William Casebeer, Peter Railton, and Michael Ruse on the paper above ("Naturalizing Ethics"). >>>PDFalt text