Thursday, 30 June 2005

Morality quiz

Apparently I'm a strict moralist a la Peter Singer, at least according to The Philosophers' Magazine morality quiz, and at least insofar as I apparently personally don't hold much truck with the idea that when it comes to moral principles, there is a deeper moral obligation towards your family and fellow citizens than towards people in general:
Your Moral Parsimony Score is 92%

What does this mean?

Moral frameworks can be more or less parsimonious. That is to say, they can employ a wide range of principles, which vary in their application according to circumstances (less parsimonious) or they can employ a small range of principles which apply across a wide range of circumstances without modification (more parsimonious). An example might make this clear. Let's assume that we are committed to the principle that it is a good to reduce suffering. The test of moral parsimony is to see whether this principle is applied simply and without modification or qualification in a number of different circumstances. Supposing, for example, we find that in otherwise identical circumstances, the principle is applied differently if the suffering person is from a different country to our own. This suggests a lack of moral parsimony because a factor which could be taken to be morally irrelevant in an alternative moral framework is here taken to be morally relevant.

How to interpret your score

The higher your percentage score the more parsimonious your moral framework. In other words, a high score is suggestive of a moral framework that comprises a minimal number of moral principles that apply across a range of circumstances and acts. What is a high score? As a rule of thumb, any score above 75% should be considered indicative of a parsimonious moral framework. However, perhaps a better way to think about this is to see how your score compares to other people's scores.

In fact, your score of 92% is significantly higher than the average score of 66%. This suggests that you have utilised a noticeably smaller range of moral principles than average in order to make judgements about the scenarios presented in this test, and that you have tended to judge aspects of the acts and circumstances depicted here to be morally irrelevant that other people consider to be morally relevant.

Moral Parsimony - good or bad?

We make no judgement about whether moral parsimony is a good or bad thing. Some people will think that on balance it is a good thing and that we should strive to minimise the number of moral principles that form our moral frameworks. Others will suspect that moral parsimony is likely to render moral frameworks simplistic and that an overly parsimonious moral framework will leave us unable to deal with the complexity of real circumstances and acts. We'll leave it up to you to decide who is right.

How was your score calculated?

Your score was calculated by combining and averaging your scores in the four categories that appear below.

Geographical Distance

This category has to do with the impact of geographical distance on the application of moral principles. The idea here is to determine whether moral principles are applied equally when dealing with sets of circumstances and acts that differ only in their geographical location in relation to the person making the judgement.

Your score of 83% is somewhat higher than the average score of 73% in this category.

And indeed, it is a high score, which suggests that geographical distance only plays a marginal role in your moral thinking. To the extent that it does play a role - even if only a marginal one - the parsimoniousness of your moral framework is reduced.

Family Relatedness

In this category, we look at the impact of family loyalty and ties on the way in which moral principles are applied. The idea here is to determine whether moral principles are applied without modification or qualification when you're dealing with sets of circumstances and acts that differ only in whether the participants are related through family ties to the person making the judgement.

Your score of 83% is a lot higher than the average score of 56% in this category.

It looks as if issues of family relatedness play have no significant role to play in your thinking about moral issues.

Acts and Omissions

This category has to do with whether there is a difference between the moral status of acting and omitting to act where the consequences are the same in both instances. Consider the following example. Let's assume that on the whole it is a bad thing if a person is poisoned whilst drinking a cola drink. One might then ask whether there is a moral difference between poisoning the coke, on the one hand (an act), and failing to prevent a person from drinking a coke someone else has poisoned, when in a position to do so, on the other (an omission). In this category then, the idea is to determine if moral principles are applied equally when you're dealing with sets of circumstances that differ only in whether the participants have acted or omitted to act.

Your score of 100% is much higher than the average score of 59% in this category.

It seems that you do not think that the distinction between acting and omitting to act has any real moral significance.


This category has to do with whether scale is a factor in making moral judgements. A simple example will make this clear. Consider a situation where it is possible to save ten lives by sacrificing one life. Is there a moral difference between this choice and one where the numbers of lives involved are different but proportional - for example, saving 100 lives by sacrificing ten? In this category then, the idea is to determine whether moral principles are applied without modification or qualification when you're dealing with sets of circumstances that differ only in their scale, as in the sense described above.

Your score of 100% is significantly higher than the average score of 74% in this category.

It seems that scale, as it is described above, is not an important consideration in your moral worldview. But if, contrary to our findings, it is important, then it decreases the parsimoniousness of your moral framework.
How odd. When I took Stanley Hoffman and J. Bryan Hehir's spectacular course on Ethics and International Relations, I recall agreeing that that communitarian ideals (the moral value of attachment?) might be a major issue with Singer's philosophy. (Although the fact that significant numbers of people besides myself value attachment is morally valuable to me, I suppose. And Singer's strict utilitarian approach still leaves me deeply uncomfortable, but that's a question for a time when I might have more time to reflect on philosophy.) (Quiz taken from fayeth.)

Crooked Timber on Singer

I do not think moral principles should be relaxed when it comes to your family, friends and fellow citizens too (hell no, especially not fellow citizens!). Strangely enough, though I am not religious in any way, I do have a set of objective moral values that I try to apply to everyone. I attribute this to the fact that I believe in the fundamental equality of every human.

Hence I can happily work to alleviate the suffering of poor Latinos and Ethiopians in the United States, even though they are not "my people". I guess I am a universalist in that regard?

I do not think I will be as strict about acts of omissions. Should we also punish family members who know about the dangers of smoking, but yet did nothing to prevent another family member or friend from doing so?

Haha enough of armchair moralizing. I should go do that test.

Another interesting question to ponder would be: do you actually apply these morals in real life? :)

Ew. Peter Singer. I recall having a lot of issues with him in an Ethics course last semester, though summer seems to have obliterated my memory and I can't remember exactly what it was that I didn't like about the man. Hmm.

A thought-provoking post. :)

By the way, would you like to take my little philosophy/literature quiz over at my blog? (friendly invitation) :)

Elyrie - I would say preventing a family member from smoking is on a different order from the situations posited in the quiz, though. For one, there's the element of uncertainty. Smoking is likely, but not certain, to make you ill.

And even if there's any moral obligation, the obligation would be, I think, to serve fair warning about the dangers of smoking rather than actually preventing smoking, which I think impinges on another moral right, that of free action.

screwy - Singer's strict utilitarianism raises all sorts of disputes beyond that of whether it is right to favour family and friends over others, so I'm not surprised you'd have issues with him.

heavenly - not sure I could fill in your test, unfortunately.

hey no prob!

Regarding smoking:

So does a smoking ban impinge on the right to free action then? How does that fit in with MY right to clean air and good health (by not breathing in second hand smoke?)

Ah, that's a different question altogether. You had asked about whether it is acceptable not to prevent someone else from smoking i.e. prevent the person from harming herself or himself; I think you aren't morally responsible for preventing smoking, although perhaps there's some responsibility to inform those people about the dangers of smoking. (Although I think Malcolm Gladwell once noted that smokers often in fact know the dangers of smoking, so it's not necessarily a question of information.) The moral calculus is altered, I think, when that smoking harms others around them, so I'm not saying that smoking bans are wrong.

Having said that, part of anti-smoking objections are on aesthetic grounds ("I don't enjoy smoke-filled rooms") rather than health-based. Hypothetically, if second-hand smoke didn't cause any health problems, there's still an externality problem, clearly; would it then be right to ban smoking?

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