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Why Are We Moral Hypocrites? April 20, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Science.
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Most of us have objections to a variety of products on the market—meat, factory-farmed meat, clothing made in sweat-shops, products made overseas by cheap labor that cost American’s jobs, products made by polluters, etc.

But most of us are quite willing to ignore these moral sensibilities at least some of the time and buy the products anyway. New research explains why.

We are apparently more likely to pay attention to ethical considerations when we are deciding to eliminate a choice, rather than sustaining a choice we’ve already made.

In four studies, the authors establish that how a product consideration set is formed, either by excluding possibilities (termed “exclusion”) or by including possibilities (termed “inclusion”), affects the ethics of the resulting consideration set. They show that exclusion results in greater weighting of ethical attributes in consideration set formation, even though normatively which task is used should not have any systematic influence on attribute weighting. They also demonstrate that consumers judge others’ behavior more negatively if they exclude ethical products (as opposed to not including ethical products).

Apparently, because we have to narrow down our choices before a decision can be made, we will bring in the ethical considerations to help us do that.

But if we already know what we want, we tend not to bring in the ethical considerations to complicate matters.

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