Online Events

An Online Gathering for Moral Psychology*
Spring 2023

Friday, March 3rd: 4:00pm to 7:45pm (EST)

Here is the link for the recording of the event:

Title: The Measurement Problem

Abstract: There are four ways we could construct a "moralometer", a device for measuring a person's overall morality: self-report, informant report, behavioral measures, or physiological measures.  Each measure faces serious methodological problems.  Self-report will be subject to bias, socially desirable responding, and likely a Dunning-Kruger effect for people with poor moral knowledge.  Informant report will suffer from similar problems, though possibly to a lesser extent and with the possibility of correction by multiple informants.  However, informant reports will necessarily be based on limited and possibly unrepresentative knowledge of the target.  Behavioral measures are less subject to bias but will inevitably sample only a tiny and possibly unrepresentative proportion of behavior, and they provide little context for interpreting behaviors that might have very different significance despite being superficially similar.  Furthermore, behavioral measures will likely require tradeoffs between feasibility and ecological validity.  Physiological measures are at best in their infancy.  Beyond the particular shortcomings of these four types of measure, further challenges arise from moral disagreement, moral relativism, and incommensurability.  Consequently, the prospects of an accurate moralometer are dim. 

Title: “Virtuous Victims and Adjacent Consent." **This is joint work with Roseanna Sommers (University of Michigan Law School). 

Abstract: Sexual assault is a pervasive problem, and victims often face a lack of support, especially when the assault follows from an initially consensual encounter. We call this idea “adjacent consent”: the victim has consented to something, but what happens to them (e.g., sexual intercourse) exceeds what they consented to (e.g., kissing, foreplay). Across a series of studies, we show that female victims of forcible rape who have provided adjacent consent are blamed more, and seen as less virtuous and deserving of support. Two distinct mechanisms contribute to these effects. First, some people—particularly political conservatives and older individuals—generally disapprove of the sexual activity the woman consented to, even in the absence of sexual assault. Second, adjacent consent prevents people from morally elevating the woman if she is assaulted. When a woman who has provided no consent whatsoever is forcibly raped, participants reliably see her as more virtuous than they would if she were not victimized (the “Virtuous Victim Effect”). Yet when the forcible rape follows from an initially-consensual encounter, participants do not extend the victim this affirmation. This second mechanism holds across a broad swath of participants, including political liberals and college students who, in the absence of assault, affirmatively applaud the woman’s sexual conduct. Moreover, adjacent consent undermines the Virtuous Victim Effect even when the victim clearly did not provide “implied consent” to sex, and this undermining does not merely reflect that adjacent consent (i) conveys romantic interest towards the perpetrator, (ii) makes the perpetrator seem less immoral, (iii) makes the victim seem like a promiscuous person, or (iv) reveals that the victim has put herself at risk of victimization. Together, our results highlight how our moral psychology of consent—and particular, an apparent tendency to “overextend” adjacent consent—may erode support for certain victims of sexual assault. 

Title: Adaptive Agency

Abstract: What should we think about the culpability of action that derives in some significant way from attitudes whose content is a product of oppression, domination, or deprivation? There are reasons to be skeptical that there is much that can be usefully said about this topic. However, one reason for aspiring to work out a systematic approach is that there are recognizable syndromes in how contexts of oppression, domination, and deprivation shape agency in ways that matter for culpability. Focusing on something we can call adaptive agency enables us to work our way toward a relatively unified way of characterizing some of the complicated ways contexts shape agency and culpability. On the account on offer, an important aspect of adaptive agency is the way in which environments shape people so that their agency is “fitted to” circumstances of injustice, often making that injustice less apparent and less readily contested. Even so, this fact is compatible with at least some exercises of adaptative agency being instances of culpability. 

Saturday, March 4th: Noon to 4:00pm

Here is the link for the recording of the event:

Amber Chen (UCSB, Psychology); Alejandro Erut (UT Austin, Center for Applied Cognitive Science); Zoe Finiasz (Duke, Psychology); Ivy Gilbert (Cornell, Psychology); Eliana Hadjiandreou (PSU, Psychology); Markus Kneer (Uni. Of Zurich, Philosophy); Paul C. McKee (Duke, Neuroscience); Xavier Roberts-Gaal (Harvard, Psychology); Andrew Smith (UCLA, Anthropology; Matthew Stanley (Duke, Psychology); Era Wu (Dartmouth, Psychology)

Title: Probing the origins of moral sentiments and sensitivity: Fairness as a case study

Abstract: The ability to recognize human actions and actors as good or bad, and to use such information to guide our judgments and behavior is fundamental to navigating our social world. While it is now accepted that moral reasoning and judgment does not await adolescence, as previously argued, contention exists regarding the developmental origins and nature of moral sensitivity and sentiments. In this talk, I present research investigating infants’ burgeoning sensitivity to fairness norms to address these questions, arguing that moral responses capitalize on the coalescence of a variety of processes and mechanisms that ultimately contribute to children’s ability to construe actions and individuals as moral or immoral.  

Title: Why Belief in Free Will Is Not an Adaptation

Abstract: In the past 20 years, there has been a growing corpus of empirical research on people's belief about free will. Most of this research has highlighted the personal benefits (greater well-being, efficiency, meaning of life) and social benefits (greater punishment of wrongdoers) of belief in free will. This has led certain researchers to argue that belief in free will might be a biological adaptation. In this talk, I will argue that arguments towards this conclusion mostly work because they take advantage of an ambiguity between compatibilist and incompatibilist conceptions of free will. More precisely, I will argue that (i) if we take "free will" in an incompatibilist sense, then the existing empirical evidence does not support (and even contradict) the conclusion, and that (ii) if we take "free will" in a compatibilist sense, then the conclusion is simply trivially true, and does not bring any new knowledge.

Title: Evidence for Two Varieties of Believing

Abstract:  In this talk I will propose and present evidence for a form of doxastic pluralism positing more than       one belief-like cognitive attitude. I will focus on the distinction between beliefs based on evidential reasons        and beliefs based on moral reasoning, and present preliminary evidence suggesting that these beliefs have         distinct profiles related to their functional roles in human cognition. 

*This is our inaugural online event. If you have questions about the event, please contact Thomas Nadelhoffer (