Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cultivating Conscience 2

Lynn Stout, a law professor at UCLA, has written a very interesting happy society book, Cultivating Conscience. I blogged about it yesterday.

Stout's key claim is this:

“conscience is triggered primarily by three particularly powerful social cues: instructions from authority; beliefs about others’ unselfishness; and perceived benefits to others.”

These cues to conscience work because they map on to the powerful human emotions of obedience, conformity, and empathy.

We already have a conscience. We can shape social structures to nudge that conscience into action. We can do this by:

  1. Having people in authority in all walks of life say clearly that helping others is a good thing to do;
  2. Show the evidence that most people do help others; and
  3. Show that others really benefit from our helpful acts.

Stout notes that there is one caveat: we act unselfishly toward others if we perceive that the cost is not too great to ourselves, compared to the benefit that others receive.

I think it is very helpful to the happy society to simply know that most people do act for the good of others all the time. We can make society better and happier by just clearly showing what is already happening.


Anonymous said...

Does Dr. Stout acknowledge the difference between selfishness and self-interest?

Gruntled said...

She shows that a more inclusive sense of self-interest leads many people, even economists, to do things that look a whole lot like altruism, even if they don't want to call it that.