Moral Decision-Making & the Person-Situation Debate
People don’t make moral decisions in a vacuum. They make them based on several factors: who they are (their identity, their personality traits) and the environment in which they’re making the decision (the surrounding situation).
My Master’s thesis attempts to identify these factors specifically within the context of deontological versus utilitarian moral decision-making—often presented as a choice between refusing to harm a person even when this will result in bad consequences (e.g., many other lives are harmed) and harming a person to maximize good consequences (e.g., saving the lives of many others).
To accomplish this, I use an experience-sampling design, collecting data during the course of people’s everyday lives rather than in a lab, and I plan to analyze my data using multilevel modeling (also known as hierarchical linear modeling). This will allow me to examine the effects of both traits (or person-level variables) and the environment (or situation-level variables) on the moral decisions that people make.
In doing so, I’ll learn whether this kind of moral decision-making is best explained by traits, situations, or some interaction between the two. I’ll also learn whether the pattern of results supports one or another of several competing theories about how personality traits work. Finally, I’ll learn whether some of the personality and situational factors that have been previously identified by researchers as influences on moral decision-making replicate in the context of people’s everyday lives.
Philosophy of Religion
Traditionally, philosophy of religion (and introductory philosophy courses at universities) have emphasized—if not been preoccupied with—questions about God’s existence: Does God exist? Can we know whether God exists? What would count as evidence of God’s existence? What characteristics does God have?
In a paper published in Philosophia, Trevor Hedberg and I argue that before we try to answer these questions, a more fundamental question needs to be answered first: Does it matter whether God exists?
We investigate this question by introducing the view of “practical apatheism”—a view of apathy or indifference toward questions about God’s existence grounded in the belief that such questions lack practical significance. We examine six objections to practical apatheism and conclude that these objections largely fail to rule out practical apatheism as a plausible view. We argue that practical apatheism deserves further consideration in the philosophical literature and should not be so casually ignored or dismissed.