Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives. Do you agree or disagree?
December 30, 2007

If you strongly disagree you might be Machiavellian.

A Machiavellian is someone who’s tendency is to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain. The charactersitics include: charm, confidence, glibness, arrogance, calculation, cynicism, manipulation and exploitation.

Machiavelliansim is measured using the simple 20-statement MACH-IV self-assessment test devised and standardised by Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis. A score of 60/100 and up qualifies one as a ‘high Mach’ – someone who is detached, calculating, and cynical about people. A ‘low Mach’ is more personal, empathic, and trusting.

Are high-Machs psychopaths? No. The difference is important and needs to be teased apart carefully. Here’s something from Wikipedia to get open the discussion:

It may be difficult to distinguish between the two, because both types exhibit similar tendencies, often while considering it important to mask or misrepresent their motives….(T)rue High Machs (as opposed to sociopaths) tend to take consequences very seriously, and when dedicated to a course of action which may backfire, it is usually because the potential consequences have been weighed quite carefully and the High Mach is prepared to be responsible if blame cannot be deflected sufficiently.

Before we lump high- and low-Machs in respective negative and positive boxes, it should be noted that at the very low end lies maladroitness with others: “kind of dependent, submissive and socially inept. So be sure to invite a high Mach or two to your next dinner party” says’s ‘Ivory tower‘, where you can take the MACH-IV test for a look-see.

So, what do you think? Is this a useful ingredient to out into our pot?

Photo: Uffizi statue: Niccolo Machiavelli, originally uploaded by Crashworks

Is Will Smith Right about Hitler?
December 27, 2007

There’s been a kerfuffle about a comment the actor Will Smith made about Hitler. He said, some believe, that Hitler was a good person. This accusation is, he says, “an awful and disgusting lie.”

Reading his original words, I can’t see that he he’s guilty of something heinous. His ‘crime’, I think, is innocence. But the ideas he expressed do Let’s merit some thought:

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, “Let me do the most evil thing I can today.” I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was good.

So which is it, do you think?

1. Hitler actually intended to do evil (not good)?
2. Hitler actually intended to do good (though his view of what is good is what most people think is evil).

Smith’s problem – if it is a problem – is that he’s too decent a person to accept that human malevolence can exist. In his happy experience people always at some level mean well.

No me, I fear. My vote goes to another option. Any guesses?

(Incidentally is that duper’s delight we see on Hitler’s face as he shakes the hand of the appeaser Chamberlain?)

Photo: Rare Film of Hitler & Co. found in Staten Island, New York, originally uploaded by nyctreeman

Ethical thinking, caterpillars, choking, panicking, and hope
December 3, 2007

Jon Morrow at copyblogger correctly suggests that we bloggers can get intoxicated by our words. He recommends:

Sober up – Walk away from the post for a few hours and give your internal editor a chance to wake up. He’ll tell you whether the post is good or not.
Find a driver – If you can’t afford to wait, ask a friend to read the post and give you honest feedback. Regardless of how euphoric you are about it, trust their judgment.

Chris Garrett follows with a thought-provoking post on how “blogging has some things in common with drinking the booze”:

Lowered Inhibitions
Solution: Don’t post in haste. Write like your mum or boss is reading.
Solution: Realize you are not perfect yourself and what you put out you get back.
Solution: Make friends in forums, comment on others blogs, chat on IM and email. Other people are usually happy to let you know the truth of the situation or just give support.
Solution: Post in draft, do not reveal too much, have clear procedures for keeping details safe and not always using the same passwords, keep backups.
Solution: Prevention is easier than cure but if you do find yourself having to clear up a mess, be honest and remorseful and hope people forgive and forget!

As it happens I just had a right old tussle with the third in his list – despair. In part this was a pin-off of the topic I’d been posting on for a while – psychopaths and lying – but I’ll write more about that another time. Today I’ll just consider the effect of of engaging one’s mind publicly with a big age-old problem (in this case, ethical and unethical behaviour).* (more…)

35 aphorisms on liars and lying
November 29, 2007

Yesterday I tried to get some clarity on what constitutes lying. I came up with this inelegant definition:

What qualifies something as a lie is not its truth or falsity, but the conscious (or unconscious) attempt to deceive (or be deceived by) others (and/or oneself).

How to lie
1. Dr. Johnson:
“We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know because they have never deceived us.

2. Marquess of Halifax:
“Malice must go under the disguise of plainness, or else it is exposed.”

3. Mark Twain:
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.”

4. Samuel Butler:
“The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”


Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying! (Falstaff)
November 28, 2007

Have you been lied to recently? Perhaps you’ve told a lie?

The question of lying and dishonesty is a fascinating one. I’ve touched on the issue of men’s lies before. I suggested that, while men are not more dishonest than women, men resort to blatent lying more than do women in part because they do not have women’s subtle finessing, alluding, etc. skills. Generally speaking, of course.

Today I want to lump all untruths under the heading of lying and show how tricky it is to define lying or the lie. (See Harry G. Frankfurt’s ‘On bullshit’.

Is lying the intention to deceive?
Classic example: “I. Did. Not. Have. Sexual relations. With that woman. Miss Lewinsky.” President Clinton, it’s generally accepted, was attempting to deceive by telling a blatant untruth. He employed the words ‘have’ and ‘sexual relations’ legalistically so that he could always say, “Well, it depends what one means by ‘have’ and ‘sexual relations’.” The wiggle-wording is obvious and we can agree that he was lying. Or can we? I’ll come back him later. (more…)

Can we think our way to ethical behavior?
November 24, 2007

Dr. X asks a fascinating question (which emerges from The Splintered Mind): does thinking about ethical behaviour lead to less ethical thinking?

It can, he says. Thinking can just make it easier to rationalise unethical behaviour: “Not returning this library book on ethics isn’t stealing, nobody else reads these things anyway…”

Dr. X concludes:

Fruitful self-examination that recognizes the implicit themes, the contradictions, the gaps and the subtleties (or lack of subtlety) in our conscious experience is a capacity that is cultivated over time by consistently applying oneself to a process that can be painful, anxiety-provoking and depressing as we give up the lies we tell ourselves to make our lives more bearable. Rational examination has a role to play in this self-exploration, but deeper familiarity with the much larger role played by irrational, unconscious mental activity is critical to getting the most out of self-reflection.

A couple of points occur to me:
a. Conscious thought can help.
It is possible to end up going, “Aargh, though I don’t feel like doing it, pulling my car over to help that person change a tire is the right thing to do (it’s what I’d want someone to do for me and I’ll like the feeling of ‘being a good person’…). I.e. it can lead to good behaviour, if not to selfless motives. (more…)

The psychopath’s effect (criminal variety)
November 22, 2007

Have you ever encountered criminal psychopath?

I say ‘criminal’ because, as I’ve pointed out before, not all psychopaths are criminals (and not all criminals are psychopaths). Psychopaths make excellent salespeople, for example, because of the pleasure they get in getting one over another. The criminal psychopath

breaks societies laws and values to attain goals
is isloated (i.e. law-breaking revolutionary groups are not psychopathic)
has a confusing array of effects on others

One of the most frightening examples I’ve seen (more…)

Ali G (aka Borat) – moral philosopher
November 10, 2007

Sometimes Superman sureptitiously used his powers despite being in his Clark Kent persona. In the same way sometimes Ali G’s disguise slips and Sasha Baron-Cohen – Cambridge University graduate – shows through.

In his TV show he once hosted a group of aging animal rights activists. The more ignorant he played it the more patronising and self-satisfied they became.

“So you won’t eat chicken?” “Oh no, never. Chickens are precious beings; who are we to…”, etc.

And then he revealed his hidden powers: “Ah, but would you eat a chicken if I said that if you don’t I’m going to kill another chicken?” (more…)

Healing the criminal mind? A Soprano-question
October 29, 2007

Can Tony be cured by talk therapy?

A recent study on impulsivity, alcoholism, and personality disorders raises an interesting point. The authors are Gabriel Rubio and colleagues of Complutense University in Madrid, the article appears in ‘Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research’.

Rubio says: “We may also need to rethink treatment options. Programs that emphasize immediate rewards for abstinence may have a better chance of succeeding with antisocial personality disorder. Conversely, psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions that focus on ‘behavioral control’ may work better with subjects with borderline personality disorders.”  

The bit on treating the antisocial personality caught my eye. (more…)

8 reasons men tell lies
October 25, 2007

Men lie, they just do – so says Madonna’s character in ‘Basic Instinct’.

(*NB There is one glaring exception to everything which follows – see bottom of the page.)

This is not to say that women are more truthful than men. My point is that men and women are dishonest differently (in this sense men lie more, women do other things) and that this difference causes extra problems in relationships.

It is generally true that a woman will lie only as a last resort, otherwise she’ll employ a range of finessed strategies to not be truthful – these a man may see as sneaky because he’d only use them in order to be sneaky. Likewise, a woman’ll interpret all a man’s lies as a betrayal of trust.

I offer this list of reasons a man might lie, only one of which counts as betrayal proper. (Of course, if he’s constantly doing any of these there’s a problem – just not the problem you imagine. Maybe it’s not that he’s a man to another woman, but rather that he’s not being enough of a man with you.)

Here goes:

1.He’s trying to prevent you knowing an important truth
Let’s get it out there right away – sometimes a man is trying to deceive you big time. Numero uno, he’s trying to hide actual infidelity. You’re right to take this very seriously. How would it be to be with a man who, say, steals from you? Same diff.

2. He’s trying to avoid pain.
No-one likes pain people will use every trick in the book to avoid it – it’s just that a man’s playbook is very thin. (more…)