Mind, Technology, and Society Talk Series

Eric Schwitzgebel

Professor, University of California at Riverside

Time/Date: 3-4:30 p.m. Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Location: Chancellor’s Conference Room, KL 232

Title: “The Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors”


Do professional ethicists behave any morally better than do non-ethicists of similar social background?  If not, do they at least show greater consistency between their normative attitudes and their outward behavior?  Despite a long philosophical tradition associating philosophical reflection with improved moral behavior, these questions have never been empirically examined.  I describe four possible models of the relationship between philosophical moral reflection and real-world moral behavior (boosterism, epiphenomenalism, rationalization, and inert discovery).  I then present convergent evidence from studies of about a dozen different types of moral behavior.  The results suggest that ethicists behave no morally better on average or any more consistently with their espoused values, compared to other groups of professors.  Using a combination of direct observation and self-report measures, I examine: the misappropriation of library books, voting in public elections, courtesy at professional meetings, responsiveness to student emails, charitable donation, organ and blood donation, staying in touch with one’s mother, vegetarianism, honesty in responses to surveys, nonpayment of conference registration fees, Nazi party membership in the 1930s, and peer evaluation of overall moral behavior.  The overall results will be compared with the predictions of the four models.


Eric Schwitzgebel is a philosophy professor at UC Riverside well known for taking an empirical approach to the philosophy of mind. He is especially well known for his work on consciousness, and has written two books that discuss the inaccuracy of introspection, which he discusses in an interview here. He is not afraid of controversial views: he argues in one paper that “If Materialism is True, the United States is Probably Conscious.” He has also written for a wider audience, including a popular article at Aeon (“A Theory of Jerks“) and some works of science fiction (e.g. “What Kelp Remembers“).  He writes about the philosophy profession in a number of blog posts, including: “At What Age Do Philosophers Do Their Most Influential Work?“, “Network Analysis of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” and  “Philosophy Is Incredibly White — but This Does Not Make It Unusual Among the Humanities“. For background on this talk, you can listen to a podcast at Philosophy Bites.