Episode 123: Rules vs. Consequences

For the second part of our “Winter of Morality” series, Dr. Galen examines the psychological factors that make a deontological (rule-based) approach to morality more appealing to most religious people than a consequentialist approach. Meta-ethical questions aside, does adopting a deontological perspective over a utilitarian ethic actually make any difference in real-world measures of moral behavior? According to new studies it might. Fundamentalists, for example, tend to adhere rigidly to a rule-based moral code and in some instances may act on their convictions more than their liberal counterparts. But as you’ve guessed, the devil is always in the details. Also on this episode: the Pope is Time’s person of the year, the ACLU sues Catholic Bishops and a Polyatheism segment delves into the bizarre and adorable beasts of Japanese mythology.

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Episode Links:

What Time Got Wrong About the Pope

What Pope Francis can learn from Obama

ACLU sues Catholic Bishops

Stranger than fiction: Roman Beef Cake Calendar

God Thinks Like You Links:

Piazza, J., & Landy, J.F. (2013). “Lean not on your own understanding”: Belief that morality is founded on divine authority and non-utilitarian moral judgments. Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 639-661. 

Blogowska, J., & Saroglou, V. (2013). For better or worse: Fundamentalists’ attitudes toward outgroups as a function of exposure to authoritative religious texts. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 23, 103-125. doi:10.1080/87567555.2012.687991 


  1. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Are there any interesting connections between deontological ethics and cultures of honor?

    Article: Wikipedia – Habitus
    (mentioned in the honor article)

    aspects of culture that are anchored in the body or daily practices of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. It includes the totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to “go without saying” for a specific group

    In this case deciding certain behaviors are infractions and legitimizing retaliation, but from an authority or rationale long forgotten?

  2. Owltruism says

    You guys should actually check out Princess Mononoke. Especially in light of your morality discussion because it has really interesting morality which is completely different than what appears in North American movies for children.

  3. Atheos says

    I’ve always had an issue to the trolley analogy that you guys use with the pushing of the fat guy vs the switch. It doesn’t seem like a fare comparison. In the switch analogy it seems as if the train could/will hit either the five or the one and you’re just choosing to switch the track or not. But the fat man analogy doesn’t seem to suggest the same. Rather it seems to suggest that the fat man has no potentiality to get hurt but rather you’re putting him in harms way. It’s as if the fat man is outside the predicament – Do I make any sense because my brain really hurts.

  4. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Atheos #4:

    In the switch analogy it seems as if the train could/will hit either the five or the one and you’re just choosing to switch the track or not.

    The lone person would be in no danger unless the subject takes an action to run a trolley into him/her.

    the fat man has no potentiality to get hurt but rather you’re putting him in harms way. It’s as if the fat man is outside the predicament

    That it’s more plausible to imagine a trolley spontaneously jumping tracks than launching into a bridge doesn’t seem relevant.

    They’re both outside the predicament of being imminently run over… or, including the subject’s involvement with the given options, they’re both part of the predicament of being potentially hit.
    When considering the risk of inaction here (or choosing not to act), rare edge cases that might conceivably happen are red herrings.

    In either scenario, you’re putting someone in harm’s way, who would’ve been safe otherwise.

  5. Chris Bergen says

    I thought you guys might be interested in reading and possibly commenting on/responding to National Review’s recent article, “Do Atheists Exist?”, which attacks Atheism in general, ‘The New Atheists’, Dawkins, etc:


    The piece describes a “zeitgeist in which atheism flourishes” (part of the War on Christmas, perhaps?) and basically characterizes Atheists as a group of confused myopic hypocrites: people who rush to make public pronouncements based on premises they just haven’t fully thought out (“Atheism is religion for people in a hurry.”).

    The piece also argues that Atheists rely on straw-man versions of God. I’ve heard this articulated before, but it’s especially funny coming from a source as cravenly right-wing and hyper-republican as National Review: apparently no *real* Christians believe in a “personal” God who is a knowable being, who makes decisions, answers prayers, etc. (apparently Pat Robertson is just a creation of the collective Atheist unconscious! and Christianity for that matter…)

  6. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Chris Bergen #6 (linked article):

    “God as Being itself barely registers with them.”

    There’s no there there.

    Article: ReasonableSoup – Logical Implications of “God as Being Itself”

    “someone who, engrossed in the question of why there isn’t nothing, says a few words […] To see what he’s trying to get at, they would have to enter into the wonder that the question elicits in him and dwell there for a moment. The closest thing the question has to an answer is the wonder itself.”

    Not wonder, stupefaction.
    @Chris Bergen #6:

    from a source as cravenly right-wing and hyper-republican as National Review:
    apparently no *real* Christians believe in a “personal” God

    *David Silverman face*

  7. says

    You claim that the ACLU case has something to do with the Free Speech section of the First Amendment.

    This is not about a sermon.

    This is not about an article.

    This is not about about a religious belief that is considered important to the faithful.

    This is about a requirement that the hospitals follow these rules or be kicked out of the organization.

    If the “Directives” required that pain medicine be withheld from people, because pain is considered a gift from God (hair shirts, self-flagellation, and other masochistic pleasures of Catholicism), and threatened to kick rebellious hospitals out of the club, would that be less of a problem?

    This is about following orders.

    The complaint states (in the first paragraph) –

    These mandates, known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (“Directives”), do not merely set forth the opinions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”) on certain health care issues. Rather, the Directives require Catholic hospitals to abide by their terms, even when doing so places a woman’s health or life at risk.



  8. cn2zv5oe says

    Yokai enthusiasts put Big Man Japan on your Netflix queue. It’s the Spinal Tap of Japan. I highly recommend it!

  9. Nicholas Frankovich says

    Chris Bergen would like to turn the discussion back to the personal God, or God of faith, which is easier both to understand and to mock. In my article I distinguish between two facets of theism, the God of faith and the God of the philosophers, and point out that, as Chris demonstrates, atheism in practice is directed mostly against the personal God, the God of faith.

    If an atheist is loyal to his own faith, he can be expected to dig in and try to refute the God of the philosophers as well, although a less defensive mode of engagement with the question would be welcome and helpful. At this point in the intellectual history of the West, there is small chance that atheists and theists will agree on the God of faith any time soon. On the ontological question, however, the distance between theists and atheists, or some atheists, appears to be vanishingly small, as I explain in the article, so let’s dig deeper there and see how much agreement we can find buried beneath the surface clash of personal identities.

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