Ethics Unwrapped Blog

Growth Mindset

How people think about their abilities and talents greatly influences how they learn and grow. Human flourishing seems to correspond intimately with a person’s mindset.

Research by psychologist Carol Dweck distinguishes between fixed and growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and attributes, such as intelligence or character, are pre-determined and unchanging. With this mindset, people tend to adopt limiting beliefs about what they can and cannot do. Often, a fixed mindset can lead people to avoid challenges, to feel threatened by others’ successes, and to “tune out” when there is an ethical transgression.

When people have a growth mindset, on the other hand, they believe that their skills and abilities can be developed. With a growth mindset, people see their mistakes and failures as an opportunity for learning. Such people are more likely to take on challenges, to respond well to criticism, and to grow from their endeavors regardless of their success.

The theory of ethical learners, developed by scholars Dolly Chugh and Mary Kern, applies these mindsets to the realm of ethics. As ethical learners, those with a growth mindset recognize their own bounded ethicality. They pursue “psychological literacy,” studying the cognitive biases and external pressures that limit their ethical decision-making. They also see their missteps as opportunities for growth and seek feedback, constantly striving to improve their ethical conduct.

So a growth mindset can encourage learning of all kinds. And having a growth mindset helps us develop the skills we need to become more effective ethical decision-makers.

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Moral Reasoning

Moral reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events to determine what is right or wrong, and what people ought to do in a particular situation. Both philosophers and psychologists study moral reasoning.

How we make day-to-day decisions like “What should I wear?” is similar to how we make moral decisions like “Should I lie or tell the truth?” The brain processes both in generally the same way.

Moral reasoning typically applies logic and moral theories, such as deontology or utilitarianism, to specific situations or dilemmas. However, people are not especially good at moral reasoning. Indeed, the term moral dumbfounding describes the fact that people often reach strong moral conclusions that they cannot logically defend.

In fact, evidence shows that the moral principle or theory a person chooses to apply is often, ironically, based on their emotions, not on logic. Their choice is usually influenced by internal biases or outside pressures, such as the self-serving bias or the desire to conform.

So, while we likely believe we approach ethical dilemmas logically and rationally, the truth is our moral reasoning is usually influenced by intuitive, emotional reactions.

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Moral Psychology

Moral psychology is the study of moral identity development, or how people integrate moral ideals with the development of their own character.

Moral psychology differs from moral philosophy in that it studies how we make decisions, rather than exploring what moral decisions we should make. It encompasses the study of moral judgment, moral reasoning, moral character, and many related subjects at the intersection of philosophy and psychology.

Moral psychologists are interested in answering a wide range of questions such as, “What types of thinking give rise to moral judgment, and how did they evolve?” “What levels of moral development are found in children and animals?” and “What role do intuitions play in moral judgment and decision-making?”

For centuries, philosophers have been contemplating fundamental issues such as “What does it mean to be a ‘good’ person?” without resolving them. So, by adding the tools of psychology to those of philosophy, we may be able to shine more light on such difficult questions.

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