Anneli Jefferson (Birmingham): “Moral self image and moral decision making”

Our moral decisions and actions are guided by what we take to be morally permissible and impermissible. In this talk I consider another factor which may affect both our judgment of moral permissibility and our moral conduct, our moral self-image. In particular, I ask whether a positive view of our own moral character traits is conducive to making good moral decisions and acting well. I discuss arguments from self-consistency that support this hypothesis. I then turn to the bias known as the better than average effect, and argue that our need for a positive moral self-image can lead us to be insensitive to evidence that we are acting immorally. The belief that we are morally superior facilitates unwarranted complacency and can lead to warped moral judgment via mechanisms of self-justification. This danger is particularly high when moral self-descriptions and evaluations of behaviour are very abstract. Very concrete moral self-ascriptions on the other hand are likely to have a positive effect. I conclude that while a positive moral self-image can be of limited benefit under tightly circumscribed conditions, it will in many cases be detrimental to moral judgment and conduct.

Anneli Jefferson is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham.