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.

Their recommendation:

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”.

How to copy me

Over the past couple of weeks, a few accidental trackback alerts have revealed a blogger has been copying content from Thought Capital – and quite a few other blogs – without attribution.

Tut tut.

As noted by the Creative Commons license on the sidebar:


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

So, you are welcome to republish Thought Capital content as long as you don’t:

  1. claim it as your own by failing to name the original author;
  2. use it commercially; or
  3. alter it.

A link back to the original post would be polite, too…

I’m reluctant to give the plagiarist traffic or ‘link-cred’, but if you wish you can find the faux blog My 1983 at booknn.cn. (That link will take you to the results of a Whois search.)

Despite my skepticism about roboethics having much to do with ethics about robotics, it’s only fair to let roboethicists have their say. Here’s a YouTube advertisement of a website on the subject.

And they use pretty words to do it.

Take this, for example:

The whole point of the “soundbite used to be to mine one nugget of gold from a longer point, to boil it down to its essence. But we’ve boiled over as a culture, and there’s nothing left in the pot. We’re not just going for the choicest cut anymore. We’ve devolved to a media culture where that nugget is zapped and worked over and processed to the point of irrelevance. There is nothing behind the nugget anymore.

That’s Denis McGrath, mixing metaphors about the lost art of conversation, and getting there by way of an obituary. Brilliant.

Today we find a well written article on research into the conflict between the front and middle brain:

It was only in 2000 that two London scientists selected 70 people, all in the early sizzle of love, and rolled them into the giant cylinder of a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or fMRI. The images they got are thought to be science’s first pictures of the brain in love.

A story mixing science with passion is popular in the press, so here are a few more which track the release of research results over the past 7 years:

All of these news items quote Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. In addition to  self-archiving her articles, she has given a presentation to TED|Talks. (Co-author Lucy Brown has a presentation at the NY Times.)

Where’s the neurolaw? Well, family lawyers might take an interest in this…

And criminal lawyers might like this…

Of course, it’s not all happening in the brain, which led to this unusual MRI study: