Do ethicists steal more books?

Abstract (via Eric Schwitzgebel)

If explicit cognition about morality promotes moral behavior then one might expect ethics professors to behave particularly well. However, professional ethicists’ behavior has never been empirically studied. The present research examined the rates at which ethics books are missing from leading academic libraries, compared to other philosophy books similar in age and popularity. Study 1 found that relatively obscure, contemporary ethics books of the sort likely to be borrowed mainly by professors and advanced students of philosophy were actually about 50% more likely to be missing than non-ethics books. Study 2 found that classic (pre-1900) ethics books were about twice as likely to be missing.

Additional Excerpts (via Eric schwitzgebel)

But do ethicists actually behave better than non-ethicists in philosophy, or than non-philosophers of similar social background? The question has never been systematically studied.

These data suggest that ethics books are more likely to be missing from academic libraries than other types of philosophy books. This effect appears to hold both for obscure books likely to be checked out mostly by professional philosophers and their advanced students and for widely read classics like Mill’s On Liberty and Descartes’s Meditations. If these data are representative, a philosophy book not on the shelf is anywhere from 50% to 150% more likely to be missing if it is an ethics books than if it is not.

There are potential confounds this study cannot control. Readers might more dearly love ethics books than other philosophy books. Readers of ethics books might be poorer than readers of other philosophy books and so more tempted to theft; or they might be wealthier and so more willing to risk fines. Ethics books may take longer to read and so be more likely to leave campus; or they may be more pleasant to read and so more exposed to the hazards of the cafe, the beach, and the bedstand. They may have been more popular ten years ago than they are now. They may be more likely reported missing if a patron can’t find them on the shelf. A patron’s friends and spouses may be more likely to borrow them. Ethicists and their students might be busier than non-ethicists and their students. However, I see no a priori or empirical reason to accept any of these hypotheses.

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01. February 2010 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Wisdom Seeking | Leave a comment

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