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09/30/2015

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I'm very much in agreement with this approach to moral improvement, Heidi. As it happens, my colleague, Matt King, and I have been talking a lot lately about the importance of attention in moral psychology. Emotions, for example, can seem to have so much sway but this often just seems due to their ability to direct our attention. (Compare Scanlon's notion of desire in the "directed-attention sense.")

I worry a bit that rationalization might be a more difficult case to capture. Often bad behavior is generated by rationalizing away what we're doing (it's not that bad; anyone would do the same; I deserve it; etc). Via a kind of motivated reasoning, we make it seem to ourselves that our actions are justified (when in fact they're not). Focusing attention might not seem to help much here since we already have to attend to the issue to rationalize it. Increased attention might just make for more effective rationalizing of bad behavior.

But perhaps attention can help (along with other factors). I think of the experiments showing that fairness can increase and cheating decrease in the presence of a pair of eyes, a mirror, reminder of honor codes, etc. (work by Batson, Ariely, etc.). A plausible explanation is that people's attention gets refocused away from their needs to their moral scruples.

Have you thought about the role of rationalization here when pausing to reflect on one's deeds? The major challenge seems to be: How do we make sure the reflection or meditation leads one in the right direction?

Well, now I have to rush off and administer an exam. As usual, I'll be putting a pair of eyes on the PowerPoint screen in an effort to curb cheating by focusing my students' attention on academic honesty!

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