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The Philosophical Challenge from China$
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Brian Bruya

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028431

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028431.001.0001

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When You Think It’s Bad, It’s Worse Than You Think

When You Think It’s Bad, It’s Worse Than You Think

Psychological Bias and the Ethics of Negative Character Assessments

Chapter:
(p.3) 1 When You Think It’s Bad, It’s Worse Than You Think
Source:
The Philosophical Challenge from China
Author(s):

Hagop Sarkissian

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262028431.003.0001

We often make judgments in the absence of complete information, including judgments about persons. When faced with conflicting evidence about a person’s moral character, one might consider giving the person the benefit of the doubt—suspending negative appraisals in the hope that, with greater experience, the more favorable appraisal will have proved correct. So described, giving others the benefit of the doubt seems charitable and kind, even supererogatory. But how far should one go in giving others the benefit? According to an influential account by Susan Wolf, moral saints will always interpret others as charitably as possible so as to secure the chance of affirming their moral goodness. In this chapter, I argue that one need not be committed to the saintly goal of securing favorable outcomes at any cost in order to regularly refrain from negative character assessments. Instead, we should focus on the psychological mechanisms that give rise to the judgments themselves. Are they reliable? What is their epistemic status? Drawing from experimental social psychology and classical Confucian normative theory, I suggest that such epistemic considerations demand that we routinely question the veracity of our negative assessments of others in everyday life.

Keywords:   moral psychology, moral epistemology, moral judgment, moral appraisal, Confucianism, Confucius, Analects, benefit of the doubt

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