Heuristics and Morality
August 3, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Any pointers to books/people/readers/papers on heuristics in morality?

[Background: I believe most people make moral decisions based on heuristics that they have picked up from their cultural environment. There's a paper showing why this is not always such a good idea here. I am also somewhat sceptical of most ethical theories. In my experience, with practical problems in a complex world, you can justify almost anything by picking a sympathetic logical frame for the issue. So rather than discarding heuristics, I'd like to know what a good heuristic might be.]

At a very simple level: question authority might be a useful moral heuristic. But I am not so much looking for aphorisms as reports of work that examines the whole approach (ie using heuristics in a positive way to solve ethical problems). Even a suitable google phrase might be useful (I tried "applied ethics", for example, but that is more concerned with applying the kind of "first principles" approach that I have little faith in).

Alternatively, if this is hopelessly naive and uninformed, is there an introduction to ethics I should be reading that addresses the issues of complexity and incomplete information?

posted by not sure this is a good idea to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

This episode of RadioLab will be right up your alley.
posted by phrontist at 11:14 AM on August 3, 2008

If you want to get familiar with traditional ethical theories, as a piece of background as you develop your own view, it's probably a good idea to get an "intro to ethics" type textbook. I have always found James Rachels' to be very readable and concise. (You can probably find a copy for much cheaper at a used bookstore, since it's widely assigned for intro ethics classes.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 AM on August 3, 2008

A good heuristic is based on a value judgement ("good"), which is based on your ethics. I don't know why you write off ethics in this question, but to me that is what undergirds the kinds of choices involved in your questions. Have you read Spinoza's TIE?
posted by rhizome at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2008

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