Tag Archives: moral

The season for reason

By, Adam K. Fetterman
This Season, Celebrate REASON”, reads an American Atheists billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel. This is another in a long line of billboards and signs reminding people that atheists are out there. The apparent goal of this campaign is to let “closeted” atheists know that they are not alone. This seems particularly necessary during the holiday season as atheists may feel more like they are in the minority than other times of the year. For some, this time of the year requires them to pretend to be religious for fear of social reprisal. Therefore, being reminded (e.g. by billboards) that they are not alone can definitely have positive effects. However, as to be expected, the religious community (mostly Christian) is not responding with acceptance and positivity (though some are). Some have said the billboards are disrespectful and attacking. So, in response, religious organizations are putting up billboards of their own. According to the New York Times, there appears to be a quite interesting sign battle going on in Texas. The atheists’ sign reads “Millions of Americans are Good Without God” on the side of the bus, followed by a truck with a sign reading “I Still Love You – God” and another claiming “2.1 billion Christians are good with God”. While it would be a fairly funny scene to witness, it hits on an old argument about where morality comes from.

For many years, many have assumed that religion is the foundation or source of morality or pro-social behavior. In a recent review, Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez (2010) indicate that religion does not have a monopoly on morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, they indicate that religiosity only predicts moral or pro-social behavior in specific contexts and can actually predict increased anti-social behavior in certain contexts. The authors go on to discuss the differences between religious and supernatural beliefs in regards to moral and pro-social behaviors.

Another researcher arguing that religion is not the ultimate source of morality and pro-social behavior is Sam Harris. He has found (as well as others) quite compelling evidence of naturalistic or evolutionary foundations of morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, I have made arguments about certain motivations that would lead all people to be moral, in previous posts. In the end, it appears to be pretty clear that one can be “Good without God”. With some of the reactions to these billboards (e.g. defacing and anger), it seems apparent that religiosity does automatically make one moral.

More Sacramento-area atheist billboards are vandalized. By, Bill Lindelof, Sacto 9-1-1

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy. By, Laura Dolan, CNN

Atheist bus ads rattle Fort Worth. By, James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times.

Sam Harris’ Website

Preston, J. L, Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574-590.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Meals or luxury? The intricate choice of Chinese consumers

The rate at which China’s luxury market has grown is tremendous, and China is now home to both the world’s second-largest diamond market and the number-one automobile market. However, it is important to note that not all luxury consumers in China actually have the salary to support such purchases. China’s online message boards are filled with accounts of young Chinese white-collar workers who skip meals and only eat instant noodles in the evening in order to save up for a luxury purse made by Richemont or Louis Vuitton. Post-80’s-generation Chinese refer to these individuals as “modern Madame Bovarys.” This type of Chinese luxury consumer lives beyond their means to attain a luxurious lifestyle like that of the main character in Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel.

Besides self-enhancement perspective and motivation theory, the moral self-licensing effect provides an alternative interpretation of the paradoxical behaviors of Chinese young luxury consumers. The moral self-licensing effect suggests that past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral, such as political incorrectness, prosocial behavior, and consumer choice (Merritt, Effron &Monin, 2010). Consumer choice represents one major domain in which moral self-licensing is evident. Everyday purchasing decisions are tinged with morality. At the extreme, some utilitarian philosophers argue that it is immoral to spend disposable income on unnecessary things because that money could go to people in need elsewhere (Singer, 1972). Though probably few consumers subscribe to such drastic views, buying luxury items or frivolous goods is nonetheless associated with feelings of guilt and self-indulgence (Dahl, Honea, & Manchanda, 2003). According to the logic of self-licensing, individuals whose prior choices establish them as ethical and reasonable spenders (or ethical and reasonable people in a more general sense) should be more likely to indulge in frivolous purchases later on. In other words, one can self-license frivolous consumption by behaving in ways that establish one’s morality. For those Chinese luxury consumers who do not have enough salary to support luxury purchases, skipping meals or other ridiculous saving behaviors might license their feelings of guilt and self-indulgence because they feel that they have paid for their consumption in advanced.  In addition, the announcement that luxury consumption made important contribution to economic growth persuades luxury consumers that what they are doing is actually prosocial. In sum, imagining engaging in prosocial activities seems to license self-indulgent purchases and reduce of guilty feelings about the frivolous choices of Chinese luxury consumers and further courage them to engage in such irrational purchases.

What Are China’s Luxury Consumers Buying?

Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron,& Benoît Monin. (2010). Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 344 – 357.