What Is Morality?

For a topic as subjective as morality, people sure have strong beliefs about what's right and wrong. Yet even though morals can vary from person to person and culture to culture, many are practically universal, as they result from basic human emotions. We may think of moralizing as an intellectual exercise, but more frequently it's an attempt to make sense of our gut instincts.

Recent Posts on Ethics and Morality

Humankind's Current Growing Pains Are Right On Schedule

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on November 26, 2015 Ambigamy
Taking stock is a good use of the holiday season, hard this year what with the calamities all around us. Still, from a broad vista humankind is doing fine, just what we'd expect to be doing now given evolutionary and human history.

Author Claims Borderline Disorder Behavior is "Sinful"

By Randi Kreger on November 25, 2015 Stop Walking on Eggshells
A Christian therapist/author writes that's "God’s Word holds the solution and his Spirit alone can heal the havoc of borderline personality disorder." She thinks that this scriptural perspective though "tough love" offers hope to people who have BPD.

Insight into Extremism and the Terrorist Mentality

What are the psychodynamics behind extremism, absolutism and all insidious forms of polarization? On some level, the answers all relate to human beings’ inherent fear of death and their need for psychological defenses to deny or ease the endemic pain of the human condition.

Darth Vader: The Value of Redemptive Sacrifice

The Star Wars character of Darth Vader is a mythic “traveler,” as we each make choices we regret and must bear the consequences. The tragedy of noble cause corruption through the story of Luke Skywalker’s father is a cautionary tale and his redemption can be an inspiration for all of us to rise above our challenges.

Explaining Americans' Reluctance to Accept Syrian Refugees

By Shawn M. Burn Ph.D. on November 25, 2015 Presence of Mind
The Syrian conflict has created the biggest humanitarian crisis since WWII yet over fifty percent of Americans oppose Syrian resettlement in the United States. Terror management theory, the principle of moral exclusion, and the study of prosocial behavior help explain why.

The Ethics of Recent Protests on College Campuses

Excellent models of protest movements exist such as those conducted by Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Mahatma Gandhi. Perhaps our current college students might take a page from their playbooks and model them in their efforts to assist in righting previous and current wrongs and to do so ethically so that their desire for change is consistent with ethical behavior.

Income Inequality, Fairness, and Envy

By William Irwin Ph.D. on November 24, 2015 It’s Your Choice
Life does not guarantee approximate equality of outcomes, and the demand for such equality in the name of fairness is grounded in envy and resentment. You can change your frame of reference to turn envy into gratitude.

The Big Lie Professors Are Telling Their Students

The big lie is this: That a college education is ....

What to Do if Your Kid Is a Sociopath?

Recent neuroscience suggests there might be hope.

Is Keeping Muslims out of US Un-American?

By Arthur Dobrin D.S.W. on November 20, 2015 Am I Right?
"America First" or "I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door" are competing versions of American history. Both are accurate.

The Uneven Distribution of Violence and News

Which violence counts? It is as if the entire world is complicit in some unconscious belief that violence in some parts of the world is unavoidable, part of life, and therefore not important, and only some parts of the world, those that have managed to export violence elsewhere, those are the parts of the world about whose rare acts of violence news media speak.

5 Reasons Bad Guys Always Seem to Win (and How to Stop Them)

There are specific psychological reasons why bad people are able to exploit others to their advantage, and part of the problem is our tolerance for bad behavior, and an unwillingness to intervene. There is more that we can do to stop the bad and promote the good.

Rethinking John B. Watson's Legacy

Should Watson be taught to students as a cautionary tale? In tracing his research, it becomes clear that in addition to ethically questionable studies, Watson was promoting problematic and dangerous assertions regarding child rearing without legitimate support for any of his claims.

Is There Pure Good?

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on November 20, 2015 How To Do Life
I thought I had identified 10, but on reflection, I had to settle for 4.

What's The Difference Between Rationality And Rationalizing?

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on November 19, 2015 Ambigamy
We toss around rational and rationalize as though we know the obvious objective difference between them when actually, it's a little more complicated than that.

Who is "A Mensch"?

You've surely heard or read the word "Mensch," which is a Yiddish-derived term reserved for a special human being, who is recognized by others to represent decency, honest and kindness, among other admirable qualities.

Explanations and Our Place in Society

By Art Markman Ph.D. on November 19, 2015 Ulterior Motives
There is a funny paradox in politics. Many people who are successful or wealthy recognize the combination of talent and circumstances and plain luck that landed them where they are. Those who are unsuccessful or poor can recognize how things might have gone differently if their circumstances had been different.

New Book Examines the Moral Economy

By Peter Jaworski Ph.D. on November 18, 2015 The Continuum
The question of what rightfully may be bought and sold has a simple answer: if you may do it for free, you may do it for money.

Thanksgiving Special: Why Give Thanks?

By Neel Burton M.D. on November 18, 2015 Hide and Seek
Whenever we give thanks, we receive much more than we give.

Why Are Drugs So Outrageously Expensive?

By Allen J Frances M.D. on November 18, 2015 Saving Normal
The drug industry is the most profitable on earth because it has exercised its power to price gouge. The combination of mounting public outrage, frequent media exposure, and the politics of this election season now provide the critical ingredients for possible change.

Psychology Of How War With Islamic State Becomes A Just War

Professor Fotion points out that another ancient Chinese philosopher, Mo Tzu (470 – 391 BC) distinguished between three kinds of war, which again ominously, but unerringly, predicts modern hostilities in the Middle East. Mo Tzu contends that any analysis of whether a war is ‘just’ or not depends on whether you are engaged in a war of aggression, punishment or self-defence.

The Elephant in Sigmund Freud's Consulting Room

By Rebecca Coffey on November 17, 2015 The Bejeezus Out of Me
Imagine growing up gay in a household where your world-renowned father calls lesbianism a gateway to mental illness. And it is always, he said, caused by the father and curable by analysis. Now imagine that he analyzes you.

How Making Colleges 'Safe Spaces' Makes Us All Less Safe

After years of colleges’ efforts to cultivate tolerance on their campuses, college students may be less tolerant than ever.

We Are All France (But Not Syria, Libya or Sudan)

By Arthur Dobrin D.S.W. on November 17, 2015 Am I Right?
Everyone is of equal worth but we can't care about everyone; compassion is selective but justice is universal.

A Bigger Take-Away From Paris

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on November 16, 2015 Ambigamy
In holier than thou competition, the absolutely holy become holy terrors.

Slow Is From the Heart

By Ravi Chandra M.D. on November 16, 2015 The Pacific Heart
A trip to Cambodia, 40 years after the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, leads to an encounter with ancient wisdom in the form of a dancer, Vong Metry. Here's what she taught me, and what is so relevant in the aftermath of violence and rage.

Gray Must Remain Our Sacred Space

By Tim Leberecht on November 16, 2015 The Romance of Work
Gray is the stance against a bipolar world, with extreme claims and exponential implications. Living in gray means living uncomfortably in the middle, but it also means living in tolerance and peace. It means commuting between two worlds and leading a double, a poetic life. It means being able to love, to feel everything but not know anything at all.

Prisoner 819 did a bad thing…Prisoner 819 did a bad thing…

By Kevin Bennett on November 16, 2015 Modern Minds
What happens when you lock a group of college males in the basement for a two-week experiment? Find out this week on DVD.

Humanity's In-Humanity

The tragedy of Paris has united us in sorrow, but has filled some of us with hate and a longing to destroy these terrorists. But unless humanity launches a concerted effort towards harmony and tolerance, a "Positive Emotional Footprint," I fear for our very survival.

Can Altruism Go Too Far?

By Jennifer Haupt on November 16, 2015 One True Thing
"One thing that sets extreme do-gooders apart is their willingness to ignore convention. These are people who are morally passionate, relentless, and incredibly stubborn—they invent lives that don’t make much sense to those around them."