While empirical philosophy is usually undertaken using thought experiments which test our intuitions, every now and then a study pops up which gos a little further to test moral actions. Here’s one that examines
The research, Governing the Subjects and Spaces of Ethical Consumption, is one of the projects undertaken by the Cultures of Consumption, and it has generated several papers. Among the results:
Ethical consumption campaigning is most effective in transforming policies and infrastructures of collective provision, rather than changing individual behaviour through the provision of information.
The authors have a new study which examines how this means that ethical consumption is more about political commitments than it is about economic decision-making. As a result,
They also found that people generally don’t lack information which would assist ethical choices. They know about sweatshops, Fair Trade coffee, and organic food. Instead, the problem is one of enabling ethical choices: people either can’t afford ethical products, or don’t have access to shops that sell such things.
If ethical consumption campaigns are to succeed they need to transform the infrastructures of every day consumption rather than focusing on changing individual consumer behaviour. (press release)
To sum this up – consumer demand for ethical products is difficult to create because people don’t want to bear the cost of ethical choices, but groups of citizens will do the right thing if political action makes it easier for people to act on their knowledge.
This type of empirical philosophy is particularly nice because it is prescriptive, insofar as it tells us what we can do to assist ethical practices. Getting to the political tipping point where it becomes possible to motivate collective action, however, is another problem entirely.
With this study in mind, pop over and read a timely post by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann that bears a great deal on this research program: “Situation” Trumps “Disposition”.