Dishonesty Debate with Dan Ariely, Paul Bloom, and Peter Singer

Last night’s Cross-Coursera Dishonesty Debate brought together moral philosopher Peter Singer of Princeton, behavioral psychologist Paul Bloom of Yale, and our behavioral economist Dan Ariely of Duke, to engaged in a debate on dishonesty, morality, and ethics. It was a thoroughly informative and accessible synthesis of their respective fields. Peter Singer kicked off the debate by citing Immanuel Kant’s imperative that one should never lie. Dan deftly parried with his go-to biblical story of God lying to Abraham for the sake of peace at home, or shalom bayit as it translates in Hebrew.

What follows are some of the ideas that were touched on that are particularly pertinent to ethical systems:

  • Contextual influences of culture play a considerable role in influencing dishonesty or bad behavior

  • More effort is needed to reduce conflicts of interest across the spectrum of human interactions

  • Greater publicity of doing good deeds should be increased to counter the higher visibility and more decisively informative nature of bad behavior

  • Nudge: the book and the concept were lauded by each interlocutor

  • Humanity suffers from systems that are not concerned enough with its own long-term interests, and which are plagued by conflicts on interest

  • Rules are needed to combat our tendencies to overestimate our own belief that we will act properly when faced with ethical dilemmas

  • Peter Singer recommended setting yourself general policies prioritizing being good, but letting yourself factor in the spectrum of greyness found in reality

  • They wrestled with whether more should be given to help strangers who need malaria nets, and less should be given to our kin who need X-Boxes (as Utilitarianism might suggest), and where a moral person should draw the line

The debate concluded with another mention of Kant, followed by confessions of the panelists’ own personal moral dilemmas, or immoral acts, but we won’t spoil those details here. Watch the clip above to find out more.