Contra Haidt: A Short Critique of Schwitzgebel and Rust’s Empirical Studies

From Haidt’s impassioned rejection of the “rationalist delusion,” it is difficult to discern why Schwitzgebel and Rust would place such significance on the aforementioned behaviors as they pertain to ethicists versus non-ethicists. There are more morally egregious behaviors that ethicists could engage in would serve to overwhelmingly confirm the fact that they do not act more morally than others despite their professional status as moral philosophers. Yet, in the various articles published by Schwitzgebel and Rust, very little explanation is provided as to why these are truly relevant to determining whether moral philosophers behave better than those who may not have as extensive training or education in moral reasoning. In an article about the library habits of ethicists versus their non-ethicist counterparts, there is only one sentence provided as to why failure to return library books is bad (Schwitzgebel 714). Rather than justifying their choice of moral behaviors to research, Schwitzgebel and Rust spend most of their published articles explaining the methods they use.

In addition, the empirical studies conducted by Schwitzgebel and Rust focus on comparing ethicists to their non-philosophically trained counterparts in other academic departments. There is no comparison to members of the general populace which would, in theory, provide a stronger answer one way or another to the conclusion Haidt is seeking to establish. If the assumption holds true, then we should expect to see a larger gap between the academic population and the general population in moral behavior.

To be fair, it is only in the methodology and conclusion sections of their various articles that the truth becomes apparent. Though there exist other research designs and experiments that could be performed to provide a more definitive answer to this question, Schwitzgebel and Rust do not seem to have the time, resources, or access to these professors (though perhaps they would have access to the general population) to properly complete such research. It seems to be a matter of logistics and they are limited by what is feasible.

Moreover, Schwitzgebel and Rust do not claim that their findings are the last word on the subject, as Haidt would have his readers believe. On the contrary, they often state that their research is imperfect and demarcates the beginning of a larger and ongoing scholarly exploration of the relationship between professional ethicists’ moral education and their observable behavior (Rust and Schwitzgebel 366; Schwitzgebel 714; Schwitzgebel and Rust 1044, 1055-56). However, that must be kept in mind by Haidt who overstates the strength and utility of their research. The confidence with which he decries the “rationalist delusion” seems to be misplaced which ultimately undermines his overall case.

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