Today's Tidbit: Ethicists Have No Ethics

Ethicists Have No Ethics

There are these people called "ethicists" or "moral philosophers". They make their livings by thinking about what is right and wrong and how to live a moral life. Does all this thinking get them anywhere?

Eric Schwitzgebel has studied the behavior of ethicists.

As reported by Jonathan Haidt, Schwitzgebel measured "how often moral philosophers give to charity, vote, call their mothers, donate blood, donate organs, clean up after themselves at philosophy conferences, and respond to emails purportedly from students. And in none of these ways are moral philosophers better than other philosophers or professors in other fields."

Schwitzgebel also found that library books on ethics are stolen more often than books on other subjects in philosophy. And in recent work, Schwitzgebel reports that only 74% of ethicists abide by an honor system to pay conference registration fees.

None of this should come as much of a surprise, for in the Gospel of Matthew, we can find Jesus advising us not to emulate the behavior of the ethicists of his day:

Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."


  • The Righteous Mind, 2012 book by Jonathan Haidt, page 89
  • A number of articles by Eric Schwitzgebel from 2009 to 2012

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1 Comment

Ethics and morals are enterily different things.

A moral behavior may or nor may be ethic. So to talk about a "moral life" it's very relativistic; moral according to whom?

One should't use moral as a synomym or ethic. Perhaps some reading of Adela Cortina's work would help understand the difference.

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