, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 51-66

Moral masquerades: Experimental exploration of the nature of moral motivation

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Abstract

Why do people act morally – when they do? Moral philosophers and psychologists often assume that acting morally in the absence of incentives or sanctions is a product of a desire to uphold one or another moral principle (e.g., fairness). This form of motivation might be called moral integrity because the goal is to actually be moral. In a series of experiments designed to explore the nature of moral motivation, colleagues and I have found little evidence of moral integrity. We have found considerable evidence of a different form of moral motivation, moral hypocrisy. The goal of moral hypocrisy is to appear moral yet, if possible, avoid the cost of being moral. To fully reach the goal of moral hypocrisy requires self-deception, and we have found evidence of that as well. Strengthening moral integrity is difficult. Even effects of moral perspective taking – imagining yourself in the place of the other (as recommended by the Golden Rule) – appear limited, further contributing to the moral masquerade.