Nov 01, 2013 | By

The Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors

In a recent interview on Philosophy Bites, a podcast from England, Eric Schwitchgebel reported on his study of the ethical beliefs and behaviors of ethics professors. He found that professors, philosophy professors, and ethics professors all behaved about the same in terms of not eating meat, voting and making charitable contributions. However, the ethics professors’ opinions on what constituted good moral behavior were far more supportive of those virtues.

It is difficult to say whether this is a sign of our times or simply a reflection of basic human nature, but the pattern of saying one thing and doing another is not unfamiliar.  How often have we seen public officials convicted of graft or driven from office in scandal as a result of a failure to adhere to their own professed moral code?  Or ministers and religious leaders who surreptitiously engage in behavior they decry as sinful in their public pronouncements?

Dr. Schwitzgebel speculates that ethics philosophers are so used to arguing on moral issues that they are probably better at rationalizing when it comes to moral behavior.  Perhaps this is true as well of those who are well-versed in politics, public communications or theological inquiry.  As we humans become adept at mental and intellectual pursuits by slicing, dicing and spinning arguments, our behaviors and private choices can lose touch with the simple notion of right and wrong.

We are all familiar with the idiom “the bigger they are the harder they fall.”  Perhaps we need another one that points to the spiritual risks of facile argumentation: “the smarter they are, the deeper they fall.”

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