The psychology of meta-ethics: exploring objectivism.Cognition 2008; 106(3):1339-66C
How do lay individuals think about the objectivity of their ethical beliefs? Do they regard them as factual and objective, or as more subjective and opinion-based, and what might predict such differences? In three experiments, we set out a methodology for assessing the perceived objectivity of ethical beliefs, and use it to document several novel findings. Experiment 1 showed that individuals tend to regard ethical statements as clearly more objective than social conventions and tastes, and almost as objective as scientific facts. Yet, there was considerable variation in objectivism, both across different ethical statements, and across individuals. The extent to which individuals treat ethical beliefs as objective was predicted by the way they grounded their ethical systems. Groundings which emphasize the religious, pragmatic, and self-identity underpinnings of ethical belief each independently predicted greater ethical objectivity. Experiment 2 replicated and extended these findings with a refined measure of ethical objectivism. Experiment 3 demonstrated the robustness of the religious grounding of ethics, and differentiates it from mere religious belief and from political orientation. The results shed light on the nature of ethical belief, and have implications for the resolution of ethical disputes.